dir: Aram Rappaport
Syrup is an edgy, in-your-face satire of corporate madness and the dark side of the Force that is Marketing;
Syrup is a hilarious send-up of the American Dream and its malcontents: the people sucked in, chewed up and spat out by its machinations, which is pretty much everyone in the Western world;
Syrup is a limp approximation of what would happen if a bunch of uni students got stoned, drank a heap of energy drinks and then came up with a script based on their half-baked knee-jerk thoughts mocking Big Business and the Earth's mindless slovenly drones who do nothing but consume consume consume;
Syrup is the greatest film ever about anything.
The movie could be any of those, or none of those. What it would ultimately 'be', even if it was just, like, my opinion, man, is what I spun it to be. Apparently, the movie Syrup, based on the book Syrup, by Max Barry, is the first flick ever to posit the idea that creating desire in consumers, which is the pure purpose of marketers everywhere, is a bad thing.
Or at least it could be a bad thing, when done with evil intent. How the 'evil' intent can be distinguished from 'good' intent isn't defined by the motive, which presumably is always the profit motive. The marketing is 'evil' when it makes something bad happen to someone somewhere. It's not even that the product itself is harmful to consumers; it's that a 'brilliant' marketing idea could make consumers do horrible things in their pursuit of the product, and thus the marketing is 'wrong'.
I have to admit that I'm confused by many of the points the film seems to be making (on the other hand, I'd love to see how they market a film that pretends to be anti-marketing) even if by nature I think I agree with it(?)
dir: Shane Carruth
What a freaky film. It’s probably the strangest film I’ve seen this year. It’s probably the strangest film I’ll see all year. There are six months to go, so, who knows?
It will be very hard to give a synopsis of this flick in a coherent way that will give a sense of what it was like to watch this movie. A few films are good, a lot of flicks are mediocre, but very few films deliberately avoid pandering to an audience by being very hard to understand and aggressively difficult to watch. This, from the same guy who made the low-key low-budget time travel flick Primer, is just such a concoction.
Most flicks, with the business model/logic behind them that generates them, go out of their way to be as easily consumable as possible. Upstream Color doesn’t seem to want to go the easy route, or to really be understood or explained in the way most flicks seem to work. At least that's what I think happened. For all I know, it makes perfect sense, and I'm way too thick to make sense of it, because I'm clearly not a genius.
It’s also aggressively edited as well, and I don’t mean in the way that a Michael Bay movie or one of the Bourne movies will be over-edited to stop you from realising how deeply stupid the plot or action of such a flick is. The purpose here seems to be to keep you unsettled, deeply unsettled.
It’s an unsettling story, but I’m not sure I’d call it a surreal or experimental one, just one for which we don’t get a lot of explanation as to what’s really going on. So much is never explained that we're left grappling with trying to piece it all together ourselves, or just pushing it aside and placing it in the "too hard, no point" basket.
dir: Dan Mazer
This is a terrible fucking film.
Sorry about the language. This was just a horrible experience, and I’m lacking the sensitivity and eloquence necessary to hide that fact until later in the review. It's so bad it's robbed me of my precious mental faculties! The bastards.
Perhaps they had good intentions, like the Road to Hell Paving Company. See, I’m already making excuses for them. The people involved have been good in other stuff, haven’t they? Rafe Spall was great as Evil Shakespeare in Anonymous the year before. Australian actress Rose Byrne has probably been good in something at some point in her life. Stephen Merchant has definitely been funny in a handful of things. None of them, brought together in the service of this piece of shit, were able to justify more than a few seconds of the film's eternal running time, despite whatever talents they may possess.
As the flick started, and I saw the words Working Title Films come up before the credits, I immediately thought "oh shit, we could be in store for another Love, Actually kind of rogering. Working Title has made plenty of the flick's your mother and grandmother liked back in the day, like Four Weddings and a Funeral, and Bridget Jones' Perversely Continuing Diary. They've also made some half decent stuff as well. Love, Actually isn't part of the half decent basket, beginning and ending as it does with hugging montages. And there's always the last-minute 'running to tell someone you're meant to be with you love them just before they catch a plane/bus/gondola/spaceship' used 15 times in the one film.
Little did I know that the scenes at the beginning of this film, displaying as they do the brief and thrilling courtship of the two lead characters leading up to their marriage, are the best, most human bits of the film.
After the title itself drops, I Give It a Year, and we immediately understand that this refers to the fact that no-one around the lead couple think they're going to last at all, three minutes into the film, from which it's all going to be downhill.
Nat (Rose Byrne) and Josh (Rafe Spall) are horribly incompatible as a couple. Whenever they're around each other, the physical structure of the universe surrounding them seems to pulse and recoil the way our bodies try to expel our stomachs and intestines out of various orifices once we've got food poisoning. I'm not oblivious to the fact that the whole point of the story is that they're not compatible, and, in fact, hate each other and are pretty repugnant whenever they're around each other. That's obvious. I get that. It's hard to miss. As you're watching it, however, you're compelled to think "what exactly are we meant to be hoping for other than death?"
dir: Shane Black
Third-parters are almost never good. They never work out well, whether in comparison to the first two instalments, or compared to any other decent films in general. Aliens III? Matrix: Revolutions? Superman III? Can you think of a third parter at least as good as what came before it? The only one I can think of is Return of the King, which many callous people think of as being The Kiwi Flick with Three Hours of Endings. But I don't, since if one happy ending is a good thing, then lots of happy endings has got to be even more super amazing.
You could argue that the difference is when the third part of a film trilogy is an organic part of the story, rather than a second sequel, whose purpose is just to capitalise on diminishing returns. Where Dark Knight Rises fits into this I couldn't tell you. Where some would argue 'necessity', others would argue 'doesn't say anything it hasn't already said twice before'. So whether it's Shrek the Third or Jaws III or Robocop III, or Spider-Man III, we're generally programmed to expect much more of 'more of the same' -ness to predominate, as well as a certain tiredness to the premise and mistakes particular to thirds that just have to be made.
I would argue that Iron Man III is the best of the three Iron Man movies. I know it doesn't seem likely, but it gets everything right both inside and outside the context of 'super hero flick' that I could hope for. It was so hellishly entertaining, so clever in many of its aspects, and thoroughly satisfying on any comic-book level I could have desired that it really is quite surprising. A pleasant surprise, not a surprise like finding a nipple growing out of your elbow.
The other argument I generally make about third instalments is that they end up repeating the events of the first flick, just in a louder and more repetitive fashion. It goes beyond callbacks and references for the geeks. Basically, the screenwriting template for 3s is 'pretty much mirror the events of the first flick, but add stacks more villains'. That's not a formula for quality. It's a formula for printing money and sadness.
dir: Jonathan Lisecki
It was either this or The Hobbit, and I didn’t really want to review The Hobbit, so, here goes.
I know this sounds like a parody of a movie, like a joke trailer within a Tropic Thunder-like satire which would inevitably star Jack Black as the giant Gayby, but Gayby is a real film, in the sense that it’s not a joke and that it has actors in it, and it runs for nearly an hour and a half, the length God always intended all films to run.
Gayby covers the babymaking misadventures of a bunch of people, but mostly those of straight Jenn (Jenn Harris) and her best friend Matt (Matthew Wilkas) who happens to be gay. The adventure they want to go on involves the creation and raising of a baby, hence the portmanteau title of Gay + Baby = Gayby. How they know the baby is going to be gay is never explained, but I’m sure it’s not really relevant.
Mostly the flick, which trades on the apparently very real phenomena of lots of gay people trading their various bits of DNA, with or without turkey basters, in order to help each other have lots and lots of babies in Brooklyn, and probably lots of other places, is about whether Jenn and Matt will stay friends. That’s really what’s at stake, because the baby is kind of the participant’s award everyone gets just for competing.
Friends since college, they overcome the natural difficulty that a gay man and any woman, hetero or otherwise, would generally encounter attempting to engender new life together; not with alcohol, not with hypnosis, but just with some self-administered hand cranking. It’s awkward, but not horribly awkward, not painfully awkward. It’s as awkward as you’d imagine it would be, and I guess there's humour in that.
dir: Gus Van Sant
Humans are by their very natures perverse creatures. We want what we don't have and forget why we wanted it so desperately once we get it.
I could go on giving you examples of the strangeness that is our legacy, as if you weren't ever aware that people were like this, but the reason why I'm even bringing this up is because this flick had a strange effect on me.
There's barely anyone on the planet that would disagree that this flick is anti-fracking propaganda. I doubt the director Van Sant or Matt Damon or Frances McDormand would be surprised by any of this. It's a position, a stance, an opinion that I basically share. The people in this flick, patiently building their straw men for the purpose of knocking them down, are saying something that I, a person who doesn't trust corporations or governments to do what's right by the people until they're forced to, basically agree with.
I don't particularly love "the environment", but I know a few people that do, and since I consider 'the environment' to be that place where I live (ie. the Earth), I lean towards not completely wrecking the place, or using the way Nature was dressed as an excuse for despoiling it.
The net effect, however, of watching a flick like this is that it makes me think, "jeez, maybe fracking isn't that bad after all."
dir: Kirk DeMicco & Chris Sanders
It's about time Nicolas Cage brought his particular brand of crazy to the 3D animated realm. He's so perfectly suited to playing a Neanderthal that I'm surprised it's never happened before.
He's not the main character here, I think, in The Croods, but it's pretty much him blathering on all the time. It's very possible the producers of this film shut Nicolas Cage in a room with a mound of coke and just recorded everything he said over a two day period. And they built a film around that. For the kids, of course.
The main character, I guess, is Eep, voiced by Emma Stone. She is the Neanderthal daughter of Cage's character, artfully named Grug. They have a whole family of Neanderthals around them, to provide the laughs and the jolly japery. And, even if you know nothing about this movie, you could probably guess that there is a grandma character, possibly voiced either by Betty White or Cloris Leachman. Cloris must have won the toss.
And there's a feral baby character, but it's not like it matters. The once-great distinction between Pixar, before their selling-out to Disney, and the rest of the animation studios was that Pixar seemed like it was telling stories because it wanted to tell particular stories, not because of the marketing opportunities or covering all the possible audience demographics.
This seems like it was put together by a boardroom of ad execs, each more cynical than the last, as they imagine the McDonald's Happy Meal opportunities and crow about the positive feedback from test screenings where clods see a few minutes at a time and comment on how awesome it was in miniature form.
What was developed and delivered is something that looks like a whole bunch of other films, is relentlessly familiar and hyperactive, overwhelmingly generic, and, above all, utterly American. It's not even American in the best sense of the word, like the novels of Cormac McCarthy, the music of The Pixies or the very existence of professional wrestling.
dir: The Wachowski Siblings and Tom Tykwer
There’s something so evocative for me about the sentence fragment ‘Cloud Atlas’. I’m serious, I’m not taking the piss. When I first heard it, and I can’t remember the context, whether it was in regards to the novel this movie is based on or not, I thought it was a poetic piece of brilliance. A juxtaposition of words so simple yet so meaningful/meaningless that I couldn’t help but love it.
Maybe it’s pretentious twaddle. I don’t know. All I know is that I love the name Cloud Atlas. Imagine such a thing; an atlas, whose purpose is to define and formalise exactly what is where in a landscape, yet of the clouds, of something ephemeral and ever-changing. Ironic juxtaposition of contradictory elements or what?
Everything I’ve said there is as much meaning as I ever derived, further on, once I actually read the book and then watched the film, at a much later stage.
The book? Eh. It had its moments.
The film? Well, that’s going to take me a bit longer to unravel.
I don’t think it’s a stretch, or at all unfair, to say that the film, as a film, is a total fucking disaster. I don’t think that’s overstating it at all. As a translation of a complex book to the screen, I swear they tried as hard or harder than anyone else could have, but the end result is a terrible waste of an audience’s time. If I had watched the film without reading the book, I wouldn’t have had a single fucking clue as to what was going on or what any of it meant. Even after having read the book and watched the screen version, I am clueless as to why they imagined audiences would thrill to this story, this interweaving of stories, this agglomerate vomiting of stores as is realised here.
Cloud Atlas, the book, has a nested narrative, comprising six stories that are tenuously linked. It starts with one story, which seems to end abruptly without resolution, then another story starts, then another then another, and so on. Each one is connected to the other, but then after the ‘last’ story, set way in the future, the recursive self-referencing reverses the order until the book finishes with the story it started with. It’s ultimately very well done stylistically, though I’m not entirely sure it succeeds thematically, and it has its own obstacles in the way of a reader really being able to see it as anything other than an experiment.
Cloud Atlas in filmic form explodes all the stories and pieces them together in a way that coldly stops any reasonable audience member from understanding why they bothered to make the film in the first place. I can think of dozens of reasons why they couldn’t follow the template of the book, but the way they’ve put it all together doesn’t help a thing.
It feels like, despite the linkages, despite the same actors playing multiple roles in all the stories, like you’re watching six separate films spliced together so that you rarely have time to appreciate what’s happening in one story before it’s interrupted by scenes from another one. Actually, it’s more accurate to describe it as the longest trailer for six films that you’ve watched only because you were flicking between six different cable channels at a time.
dir: Lauren Greenfield
It takes a certain kind of character to handle being wealthy and powerful. Few people have the stones for it. It’s not for common mortals like us to be rich and famous, no. We would buckle under the tremendous weight of such awful responsibility. The rest of us peasants should be grateful that we don’t live under the dread of such burdens.
If you haven’t noticed, there’s a downside for these brave people. They have to develop heroic defence mechanisms to protect themselves from the harshness of reality and the envy of the lower orders. As an example, you might have noticed that whenever a celebrity or wealthy person does something obviously, demonstrably wrong, then any criticism levelled at them is dismissed as hate from the “haters”. Haters, you see, are the envious, poisonous masses who dream up all sorts of untrue perfidy in order to bring down their betters. It’s the only explanation.
It’s the only way to make sense of a reality that previously seemed to bend to your every whim. If things always seemed to go your way because you were powerful and top of your game, and that your self-directed wilful free ride somehow ends, it’s because of the haters. It can’t be because you did something wrong, ever. It can’t be that you were complicit in a corrupt system, never that.
It can never be you, because you are still an exemplary embodiment of awesomeness, and being brought low would be impossible unless all the Lilliputians ganged up simultaneously to bring you down. They’re always waiting, their resentment building, hungering for that perfect moment to exact their pound of flesh.
We call it ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’ here in this great wide brown land of ours known as Ostraya. Of course, the people invariably who’ve used the phrase to demonise their detractors, singular titans of industry like Alan Bond, Alan Jones, Kerry Packer, Matthew Newton, Sam Newman, Martin Bryant (probably), were or still are singular, unrepentant pieces of shit who’ve never acknowledged the awful stuff they’ve done and will never admit they were at fault at any point for anything awful that they did in their lives. We’re talking about bullies, sadists, domestic abusers, liars, thieves and complete arseholes, for whom anything bad that happened to them is solely because of someone else’s envy.
The Queen of Versailles is about neither the actual palace of Versailles, or the Queen of such, who doesn’t exist. It’s about some people who were extremely wealthy, who are now only rich. They were so wealthy before that they wanted to build a replica of Versailles in Orlando, Florida, across the swamp from Disney World, and they started building it, pouring in 75 or so million dollars of cheap, borrowed money, as a tremendous ‘fuck you’ to the rest of the world.
And why did they have to build a concrete McMansion version of Versailles? Because they could. Did it have to be a place with 30 bathrooms? Well, yes. Why not, you filthy communist? Who are you to say whether they should have 25 bathrooms or 35 bathrooms? Who are you to impose your will on people clearly better and more American than you, you low income nobodies?
dir: Sally Porter
I have loved Sally Potter for a long time, all because of Orlando, from so long ago that it barely warrants repeating.
No, that's not a prelude to me spending most of this review talking about a different film, something I often do. Most of her other films since then haven't really impacted upon me to any level similar to what I got from Orlando, a level of connection that haunts me to this day.
Ginger and Rosa is no different, in that it didn't really dazzle me or resonate deeply with me, but it's still a decent film. It's very modest in its scope, somewhat lacking in ambition, but that gives it plenty of opportunity to focus entirely upon one character almost to the exclusion of all others. It's also another opportunity for Elle Fanning to show what an accomplished actress she is at such a young age.
Two mothers give birth in a London delivery room. They clasp hands without knowing the other, needing the comfort of someone else going through something transformative. They forge a link, and their born daughters are linked too, closer than sisters and bonded beyond reason. Yeah, they're the one's in the title.
Ginger (Elle Fanning) has bright red hair like her mother Natalie (Christina Hendricks), and the same anaemic super-pale skin. Rosa (Alice Englert) is pale but dark-haired, and from a Russian background. They're not twins, or spiritual twins or anything, despite their tendency to wear the same clothing and go everywhere together. They're enmeshed, though. You get this feeling of gestalt, of two people so intertwined that they don't always know where one starts and the other ends. This rarely ends up being a healthy thing in movies. Usually ends up with someone's mum being murdered with a brick.
dir: Bart Layton
At their worst, documentaries cover something that happened in the most turgid, lifeless manner possible, sending the facts even further out of reach and serving the self-interests of people trying to impose their horrible view of humanity all over the rest of us.
At their best, they illuminate the confusion that confronts all of us in the face of not what happened at particular points in time, but why. It’s not the sole purpose of documentaries to answer questions, or to say “This, then this, then this”. Sometimes they succeed best when they still leave us wondering “what the hell were these people thinking?”
The Imposter is a documentary about something that really happened, in which most of the facts are not in dispute. Let’s say 99% of the facts are not disputed. With the family involved, and the imposter of the title, none of them are denying that any of this happened. What none of them can genuinely answer is the “why” of it all, and that doesn’t detract from the experience in the slightest.
A boy goes missing in Texas, in the 1990s. A ‘boy’ in Spain is found by police, who claims, eventually, to be the missing Texan boy, Nicholas Barclay.
How bizarre, eh? We’re not under any confusion as to whether this chap was actually Nicholas Barclay. I mean, the documentary is called The Imposter. Also, this guy, who talks directly to the camera, has a strong French accent. He has brown eyes, whereas Nicholas has blue eyes. This guy’s also clearly an adult.
There are actors in this, in small recreated bits, but mostly we see the family of Nicholas Barclay, his sister and mother, the FBI agent who become involved, and, in the main, pseudo-Nicholas Barclay with his oily French non-charm, admitting what an unrepentant scumbag he was from the beginning to the end of this saga.
dir: Ron Fricke
How do you even review something like this? It ends up saying more about the reviewer than the movie reviewed.
Samsara isn't a sequel to Baraka, the amazing, awe-inspiring 'documentary' from the 1990s that I've watched a billion times and whose soundtrack I've listened to even more. It's a continuation of Baraka, same director, same incredible 70mm film footage, same globe-trotting footage and same blissful lack of narration.
While I've seen Baraka so many times that it's become like the wallpaper of my skull, it exists in a pre-review time, before I was ever presumptuous enough to start thinking critically about films, about film as a medium, and, even worse, before I had the gall to start writing about them.
Samsara supplies me with a curious opportunity: How do you write about something that has no (obvious) narrative or story, which isn't really documenting anything other than how awesome-looking some bits of the world are, and which it's almost impossible to describe beyond saying stuff like "And then there's a shot of the Pope's arse, and then there's a narwhal, then there's a glacier, then there's a guy picking his nose at Roppongi Station, then there's a massive sand dune and then" which I could do for thousands of words and still get no closer to capturing its point or essence?
Well, the first thing I can comment on is that even with the lack of a clear narrative, without some voice telling us what to think, there are obviously decisions that have happened, thoughts thunk and put into action and themes put into play by both what was filmed, and how it was edited together. We, being humans, at least most of us, can see something random, something with elements that are not connected, and our minds seek to connect the dots.
We draw comfort from there being a meaning, from there being a connection. I know, schizophrenics do it all the time and it's horrible, because they can somehow connect a curious mark on the side of an apple with a cloud in the sky and a word spoken by a character in a movie, and it all points to how a taxi driver is trying to kill their hamster. Being able to imagine a connection, or hallucinating connections, doesn't mean those connections are valid.
dir: Jake Schreier
Films about old guys battling dementia don’t sound like a lot of fun. If you saw that flick, at least I thought it was an actual movie, of Clint Eastwood getting into an argument with a chair last year and losing, then you know how sad it can be.
Really sad. But where there’s inspiration, there’s hope. Someone fairly clever came up with a sci-fi premise that does what the best kinds of science-fiction stories do: they use some kind of presently non-existent technology to tell us a story relatable to the people of today.
Frank (Frank Langella) is a grumpy old bastard, as if there’s any other kind of old guy in movies. The first thing we see him doing is burglarising a house. He’s pretty rough at it, but he knows what he’s doing. As he’s extracting everything of worth through lockpicking and brute force, he spies a picture in a frame, and wonders how a picture of himself as a younger man with his kids has found it into his target’s house.
It takes a while, but he figures out, too late, that he’s been knocking off his own house in the middle of the night.
So, yeah, we get to see two things: he’s a thief by nature, and he’s got some kind of neurological/cognitive issues, especially as they relate to memory.
He has a son who fusses over him (James Marsden), and who visits him weekly, but he has to drive five hours there and five back each time. Clearly there are limits to filial piety. He has a daughter as well (Liv Tyler), whose whiny voice and ethnic clothing makes her the classic cinematic cliché of a trust fund hippie. She fusses from a safe distance, as safe a distance away as Tajikistan, or Kyrgyzstan, or one of the many ‘stans to choose from.
The concerned son, the good son, decides that you can buy your way out of a difficult situation. Money can assuage guilt, it's possible, or at least that's what this film champions as an ideal in life. The son buys the father a robot. It's far enough in the future where robots are now adept at carrying out all the tasks a senile old man and a crafty thief could ever ask for. Frank's not enamoured with the purchase, because, as with most people who are either old or suffering from dementia or both, they deny they have a problem and they at least pretend to resent any attempts towards helping them (while whining simultaneously if you stop trying to help).
dir: Joe Wright
There's some virtue to having modest ambitions. When confronted with the prospect of converting Leo Tolstoy's weighty tome into a movie, many have faltered, most have failed, and none have got it right. The book's way too big. It's also on too much of a pedestal for it to come out right to everyone's satisfaction.
Also, where some would obsess with verisimilitude, with period accuracy and historical detail, Joe Wright and the producers here have elected for a way to illuminate the story without having to get dragged into a genuine Russian winter. I mean, it destroyed Napoleon's army, it destroyed the Nazis, so what hope would petty film producers have?
Mother Russia, or at least the time and place of it relevant to this story set before the Revolution, is created for us on a stage. At least, all or most of the story seems to transpire within the confines of a massive old Russian theatre. It's deliberately artificial, as in, they're not trying to hide the fact that it's an inventive and elaborate pantomime. I doubt this approach was budgetary. I mean, I have no idea. Maybe it was cheaper to do it this way, but it doesn't seem likely. Setting up all these elaborate sets on a sound stage so that it looks like it's in on an actual stage is just as expensive as making it look like it's in outer space or in the White House.
The approach has a different aspect of importance, though, beyond the production. Its specific artificiality reminds us that it's artificial on a regular basis. If it doesn't allow us to submerge ourselves into an immersive experience, then it's saying something else, perhaps. The whole world's a stage, and within that stage, between the back stage and the proscenium, in the wings and under the floorboards, are the other people, in this case, the Russian peasantry, perhaps, all the people in the world that don't matter to Anna Karenina, in her singular pursuit of love and passion.
dir: Michael Haneke
That guy, what do they call him? Oh yeah, the Grim Reaper.
As if life itself isn’t enough of a reminder of it, this movie reminds us why the Reaper is always preceded by the adjective ‘Grim’.
We live our lives knowing that they will end, but, to function every day, to find meaning in the little things, we have to push that thought and its attendant fear out of our minds. I’m not pretending I came up with the Denial of Death concept, or that I’m Ernest Becker. I wish. Things I’d do with all those royalties.
But we know, we know. Everyone one of us, everyone we know, who we love or hate, all of us go into that great oblivion, and thinking about it too much crushes us.
So we watch a film about two seniors, Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), people who’ve lived fulfilling and meaningful lives together, who’ve aged the way we all do, who still, somehow, thought the ‘end’, whatever form that would take, would somehow skip over them, at least for a while longer.
But ‘this’ is ‘it’. To be betrayed by one’s body despite not having done anything ‘wrong’. It is to be helpless in the face of mortality, like we all are, but still feel the inherent unfairness of it, because it’s always going to feel unfair.
Death is not unknown to me. People have died around me, through illness, through suicide, through old age. My parents, though, still live, thankfully, blessedly. They are the age of the two main characters here, and it was impossible to see the flick without thinking of them, and without thinking about their inevitable decline into helplessness and death, and how much I dread that for them.
Anne and Georges are upper-middle-class Parisians, both lovers of and experts in the field of music, both of an age that implies they’ve been together 50 or 60 years. They attend concerts and live their fussy lives in the way we’d all aspire to at their age. When they come back from the piano concerto of one of Anne’s protégés, the door to their apartment has been crudely jimmied open with a screwdriver. Their world has been rudely invaded, even though nothing’s been taken (yet).
But the ‘invader’ is already inside. Next morning, during breakfast, Anne has a strange moment of unresponsiveness, scaring Georges. He’s not sure what’s happened, or what to do, but we know, for a number of reasons, that it’s not going to be good.
Turns out it was a stroke. A mild stroke, but it reveals a more potentially serious problem, which gets operated on, with disastrous results.
What else can we do in the face of the person we share our life with becoming helpless? We look after them as best we can. But what do you do when you yourself are fairly aged and can barely look after yourself? You do the best you can to look after both of you. After all, why else would this film be called Amour?
This is a film which contains a specific circumstance, but it’s lived by millions of people, has been and will be ever more. The details and the ‘intruder’, the aspect of mortality that invades our lives and takes us down, but not before reducing us in every way possible, differ from what’s experienced by Anne and Georges, but all the same, we all know this story.
It’s the depiction of it that is most confronting, even though it’s not gilded in any way or minimised, downplayed. This film isn’t a story about a couple to whom ‘stuff’ or a plot happens and someone dies at the end: it’s about the journey towards that death, and the impact on the people who are experiencing it, being, in this case, a loving old couple.
It’s called Love, it’s called Amour, but it’s even, for much of it, about how little that love compensates or alleviates what they go through. Sure, love all you want, love as much as you can, but the horror of what Anne endures isn’t made that much easier even with the tender ministrations of Georges, or his loving ways.
dir: Martin McDonagh
When I write reviews about movies, I find it slightly pointless to include info that’s readily available on the tubes of the internets. There’s no point replicating the services that Wikipedia or IMDb provide, so I don’t bother including a lot of “actually, you may be interested to know that while this film was being made, the director was sleeping with the sister of the lead actor, who in turn was snorting the cremation ashes of Charlie Chaplin off the lower back of Rita Hayworth’s great-great-grand niece” type stuff.
It would be pointless, I think you’d agree. My personal take on these movies is the only thing I have to contribute in this world, and it’s not the perspective of an insider or an expert, just a shmuck fanboy. You can guess what that’s worth.
What I’m getting at is this: I could easily look up what the actual circumstances of the writing and production of this flick were. I could find out from the horses or whorses’ mouths almost instantly. And I could include that here. But what would be the point of that? Such knowledge wasn’t with me at the time when I was watching this deliriously insane flick, so it didn’t inform my enjoyment of it. So what would the point of talking about the ‘truth’ be?
Instead, I’ll relate what I was thinking about when I was watching it instead.
Martin McDonagh came to international acclaim after In Bruges came out. I don’t think it was hellishly successful financially, as in it didn’t make billions at the box office, but for a time, for months it seemed, a whole bunch of people were talking about it. His skills probably in order of importance or expertise started with and grew from: being a successful playwright, writing some screenplays, and thence to directing.
With success, modest or otherwise, come strange riches and stranger opportunities. Someone must have said to him, here’s several million dollars, come to LA and write whatever you want, no strings, promise.
You get to LA, you start trying to write that screenplay, you hit the bottle, and the writer’s block and the pressure to write something brilliant as before but different enough to not be accused of complacency completely destroys you.
That’s when you, and by ‘you’ I mean Martin McDonagh, resort to the saddest and most pathetic cliché in the screenwriter’s bag o’tricks: if it was good enough for Barton Fink and Adaptation, then why not Seven Psychopaths?
You, an alcoholic Irish screenwriter and director, write a screenplay about an alcoholic Irish screenwriter and director who’s writing and drinking aren’t getting him anywhere as he works on a stillborn screenplay.
The resulting utter mess, and it is a mess, is Seven Psychopaths. They say that certain difficult processes can be as impossible and fruitless as trying to herd a clowder of cats. Well, imagine herding those cats as they sit on the shoulders of a bunch of psychopaths with their own contradictory, mutually exclusive storylines, and a deliberate desire to avoid and celebrate a lot of violent movie clichés, and then you have an even better idea of what a mess this is.
I haven’t decided yet whether it’s a glorious mess or not, and I’m not sure if I’ll know at the end either.
dir: Tim Burton
I admitted, in my recent review of ParaNorman, that I often make mistakes when it comes to allowing my darling daughter to watch stuff that’s perhaps inappropriate for her age, which was, at the time, five. What I neglected to mention is that I’m really not the kind of person you look to for the actual, mature process of ‘learning from one’s mistakes.”
That’s not something apparently that I do. So when my daughter, primed by having seen ads for it, insisted we go see Frankenweenie, I said “why the hell not?”
In the end, it turned out to be far less terrifying than I feared, and better than I expected.
It is, after all, a story about a boy and his dog.
Well, actually, it’s about remaking the ‘original’ James Whale Frankenstein in the most kid friendly manner possible, while also finding time to coat the whole story in the visuals and tropes Burton has been trading on for decades, as well as doing some stuff with the old Japanese monster movies.
And by ‘tropes” I mean the aesthetics and imagery he’s ripped off from people like Charles Addams and Edward Gorey from day dot.
This isn’t a brilliant movie by any estimation, but I loved the hell out of it. It didn’t tell a particularly original story (how could it), but it tells it aesthetically in the best manner possible for what the story requires, which is all we can hope for.
Victor loves his dog Sparky. Victor, Victor Frankenstein, that is, lives in the gloomy town called New Holland. No, it’s not Australia up until the 1800s. It’s gloomy because everything seems to be in black and white. Also, in a first for the protagonist of a movie Burton directed, Victor is a depressed loner, always going about in a funk.
The father here, like the father in ParaNorman, laments that his son isn’t a joiner, or a sporty type, or exactly the kind of son he wishes he could have had. Is every cinematic father like this? Now that I think about it, cinematic fathers from The Jazz Singer to Brave to How to Train Your Dragon to Texas Chain Saw Massacre all wish their kids could have turned out somewhat differently, before either accepting them as they are or killing them in the end. It’s tough love, but it’s the only way they’ll learn.
dir: Kathryn Bigelow
Torture is awesome! Who knew?!?
Obviously it’s not as wonderful to the people it happens to, but, for the rest of us, it works beautifully. It’s effective. It’s necessary. It’s entertaining. It’s awesome.
Zero Dark Thirty is less about the hunting down of Bin Laden like the dog that he was, than it is about how one woman’s, and the CIA’s, determination to do anything including torture to get him (and her capacity for overacting) are the only reasons they ever found the fucker.
First, we have to endure a lengthy justification for the torture, in the form of audio recordings of soon-to-be victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Talk about moral blackmail. The film is practically daring you to disagree that any actions taken by the US and its allies after that dread day were so utterly justifiable that you deserve to be shot out of a cannon if you think otherwise.
We meet Maya (Jessica Chastain) as she watches a torture session, with rough justice being meted out by some other CIA guy (Australia’s Own Jason Clarke). He’s really good at his work, but he doesn’t love doing it. We get the clear impression that he’s not a sadist, that he doesn’t “like” what he’s doing, but he sees the sadly necessary utility of it. Poor diddums.
He’s so good at it, though. These Al-Qaeda shmucks don’t really stand a chance against all the beatings, water-boardings, genital mockings and uses of small boxes for accommodation.
Is it torture? Is it ever. Wherefore the quibbling over the difference between torture and ‘enhanced interrogation’? Sure, our red-headed protagonist acts like she’s not a fan of these procedures, but her determination to find a link to OBL cannot be diluted or assuaged. I’m surprised they don’t have a scene where she twists a guy’s nuts in her steely grip herself, instead of delegating. Sometimes these things require a personal touch.
These scenes are hard to watch, for me. It’s not because I put myself into the positions of either the torturer or the tortured, or empathise with their struggles with conscience or with the trauma that’s dissolving their psyches. I watch stuff like this and wonder what it says about a nation and its allies that they condone and justify it, grudgingly or otherwise.
My main objection would seem to be; isn’t it the kind of thing the dreaded and hated Other would seem to be most keen on, and not Us? If We are doing stuff as ugly and dehumanising as this existential, abstract enemy seems to do without qualms, where’s the moral superiority? Where’s the goodness, the humanity, the acknowledgement that that ends don’t justify means? I thought we’d left this utilitarian shit back in the 19th Century, along with the corsets, cholera and leeches.
To the flick’s credit it at least acknowledges that all that’s happening is wrong. It shows us so-called ‘black sites’ and tells us they’re black sites. It doesn’t explain what a black site is to an uninformed viewer, but, hell, it’s not hard to figure out.
They’re conducting their gentle fact finding missions in places and in countries where torture is commonplace and not frowned upon, in fact it’s celebrated and applauded. It gives them the plausible deniability to say that they’re not breaking American laws on American soil.
Just, you know, they’re also saying fuck you Geneva Convention and all that.
dir: Ang Lee
A lot of what I’m going to say about this beautiful movie is going to sound churlish, ungrateful and unfair. So be it. Someone has to do it. So much of the rest of the world is tripping over itself saying what a wondrous movie this is, that I can’t help but be a little contrary.
But until that time when I let rip with both barrels, let me lull you into a false sense of security by praising this film’s many virtues.
No, Life of Pi is not about pies, or about the mathematical constant of π. The diameter or circumference of no circles was calculated during the making of this movie. It’s about a guy whose nickname is Pi (Irrfhan Khan) who survived a harrowing experience and lived to tell the story to a writer (Rafe Spall). Lucky for the writer, eh, because he would have been stuffed otherwise, and we would have been none the wiser or entertained.
No, don’t go thinking this flick has anything to do with a true story of any description. Almost every implausible movie that gets made, from Zero Dark Thirty to Titanic to Transformers, practically has an opening title assuring us that what we are about to watch is based on true events. That’s not what Life of Pi is aiming for. It aims to tell an amazing, unbelievable story in the most visually stunning manner possible.
And, oh, is it stunning. Seen in 3D, using the full capabilities of this ‘new’ old technique in the cinema is the quintessential cinematic experience. It’s the most impressive and immersive use of 3D I’ve seen thus far, and it doesn’t just add an aesthetic sheen to the visuals: it makes the visuals visceral and encompassing in a way other films don’t.
When Pi is telling the story, he’s an older man, but the story he’s telling is about his younger self (Suraj Sharma), growing up in Pondicherry, at the time a region of India controlled somehow by the French. I say ‘somehow’ because while I don’t dispute that the French controlled this place up until the 50s, it just doesn’t seem like something those brave and noble Gauls would do.
I mean, I can’t imagine the French ever trying to rule some colonial place and having it explode in their and everyone else’s faces, can you? Maybe the Americans came along and politely asked them to leave?
dir: Steven Spielberg
You know, I never thought Spielberg had the balls to do something like this, but he did, and audiences never really punished him for it. He’s taken the most iconic, the most universally admired US President (except in the South, perhaps) and depicted him as a crushing, tedious bore, and people are applauding him for it, and lavishing Daniel Day-Lewis with unending praise and statuettes.
Good for them, I guess. The thing is, I don’t even think it was subtle at all. He actively has characters respond with exasperation whenever Lincoln spins another yarn, while every other person sighs and maintains their steeliest “have to look enraptured for the boss” facial expression. People are active, working, doing stuff, usually arguing before he mutters some kind of non sequitur “It wasn’t like this back when I was splitting rails on the Tallahatchie trail”. Then everyone freezes, and we get the feeling that inwardly, they’re dying a little, and fighting the urge to run and hide in a dark, close place, or cry.
“Please, oh please let it be a short anecdote. Please don’t let this story go on so long that I chew my own leg off to escape. Please let his tongue have a stroke, even if he is the single Greatest Statesman and Raconteur the world has ever known.”
Lincoln will deliver his folksy little anecdote or parable, and, quite often, people will go back to what they were doing as if their relief that they can go on with their lives is palpable, measurable, marketable.
But you can’t ignore such a towering figure, especially when he has such a transformative plan for America. The screenplay is by Tony Kushner, who’s a pretty impressive writer, and has scripted some of the better recent Spielbergo ‘experiences’. He uses a bunch of sources, some credited, some not, but the main credited source is meant to be Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, a good book I’ve actually read but don’t really remember that well. The film is an excellent reminder of one of those moments in history where something completely obvious and fundamental (that people can’t be property) became enshrined into law, thus making a whole bunch of white folks feel good about themselves for a while.
dir: Robert Zemeckis
It’s enough to put you off flying for ever. Or drinking. Or drinking while flying forever.
This is a strange flick, with strange rhythms and strange themes. It seems like it’s going to be about one thing (a tremendous plane crash), and it ends up being about something completely different (alcohol addiction). Even then, it seems like it’s going to be more about what an unrepentant arsehole the main character is, ably played as always by Denzel Washington, than any kind of redemption, and then it shifts again.
I wouldn’t say the shifts in tone and purpose confounded me or surprised me, but the truth is they didn’t leave me any the wiser about anything inside this film or out of it.
As the film begins, a grumpy middle-aged man awakes, but not before we see his naked bed partner go through her morning routine. The routine involves finishing off last night’s booze, taking a few puffs of the chronic, and bumping a few rails of cocaine.
That sort of behaviour is all well and good for rockstars, primary school teachers and televangelists, but we see with shock and horror that this chap with this morning regimen is a pilot about to fly a plane. And the guy is still drinking, even as he’s flying!
That’s not right, is it. Something goes catastrophically wrong with the plane, rendering it very much unflyable. But it’s drunken Whip Whittaker to the rescue! Even three sheets to the wind, he’s able to carry out, with some help, a sequence of moves which seem like they would cause the plane to crash even quicker, but somehow keep the plane which desperately wants to crash upright.
While all these shenanigans are going on up in the air, a redheaded heroin addict (Kelly Reilly) scores some killer stuff and bangs it against all advice, nearly offing herself. The people trying to get her from skid row to the hospital look up in time to see a commercial jet flying by upside-down 500 feet from the ground.
The whole plane crash sequence is a masterful exercise, tightly focused, horrible in its details, and totally nerve-wracking. I felt like I was on the plane, wishing with every fibre of my being for it not to crash.
The rest of the film, and there’s another hour and forty minutes of it, doesn’t really match the intensity of the dynamic first half hour. I found myself yearning nostalgically for the plane crash.
dir: Sam Fell and Chris Butler
Mistakes, grand follies, profound errors of judgement… I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life. That should be patently obvious to you by now. Most of them I deeply regret, some of them I don’t, but it’s safe to say that mistakes and bad decisions seem to define parts of my life far better than any decent choices I’ve ever made.
What am I nattering on about? Well, let’s just say that since I became a parent, all my bad decisions tend to revolve around parenting. The propensity for making mistakes, if you’re going to survive for any length of time in this life, has to be counterbalanced by having some capacity to learn from those mistakes, and to not repeat them throughout the generations.
That is one of my only virtues, in that hopefully I don’t make the same mistakes too often before learning “Fire? Hot!!!” after burning some fingers fourteen, fifteen times.
The mistake I made in relation to this movie is that when your five-year-old daughter says to you, after watching the trailer for ParaNorman in front of Rise of the Guardians, “Daddy, I really want to see ParaNorman!”, you exercise good judgement and say, “Darling-heart, apple of my eye, daughter and only heir, you’re too young for that movie, maybe when you’re a bit older.” You don’t think about it for a few seconds, belch out some popcorn, and then mutter “Sure.”
You also, a while later, don’t actually let her watch ParaNorman, because a rating of PG doesn’t always mean, “Don’t worry about it, the kids will be fine”; it can mean “This shit will give them nightmares. Nightmares!”
Look, I know I stuffed up. All the ponies in the world aren’t going to fix this one. Oh well, I guess I should start saving some money every week to afford the therapy she’ll doubtless need in time…
ParaNorman is made by the same awesome group of lovely creatives (calling themselves Laika) who brought the world the animated goodness that was Coraline. It uses plenty of CGI animation, but it beautifully and expressively uses a lot of stop-motion (as in physical, solid) 3D animation in a very enjoyable fashion.
The story is a tad macabre for the littlies, seeing as it all hinges on the MURDER OF A CHILD BY A BUNCH OF PURITAN FANATICS! Honestly, if I’d known… well I probably would have let her watch it anyway. The Norman of the title (voiced by Australia’s Own Kodi Smitt-McPhee) is a glum little chap with straight-up pointing hair and large swath eyebrows that perpetually signpost his disgruntlement with this unfair world. He has a gift, but the world around him punishes him for it, and rightly so. If someone tells you they speak to dead people, and the dead speak back to them, shouldn’t we all just say “Ooooooh-kay? and back away politely?
dir: David O. Russell
Do you sometimes hear about a film that a whole bunch of people seem to think is the bee’s knees, the duck’s nuts, the greatest thing since the invention of whisky, and you watch it and think nothing more than a big question mark?
Apparently, Silver Linings Playbook was one of the greatest movies of 2012, perhaps of all time. Your humble writer is in no position to confirm or deny, even after having watched it. Maybe I haven’t seen enough movies. Maybe I’ve seen too many. Whatever the cause, I’m obviously lacking something crucial.
My perplexity doesn’t diminish after having written this review, I’m as confused at the beginning as I am at the end. That’s not to say that this film isn’t modestly enjoyable, it’s just that it’s a very flawed film, and a very conventional one as well.
Mental illness is a tricky subject for movies. Invariably, in the same way they get almost everything real wrong, movies get mental illness wrong wrong wrong. The main character here is a violence-prone maniac with bipolar disorder; it’s what they used to call being manic depressive.
When we first see Pat (Bradley Cooper), he’s in a mental health facility. We don’t know why yet, so one of the first things we see to give us an idea of where this character is coming from, is his taking of, and spitting out, of some medication.
He’s a rebel, he’s a joker, he’s a wild card, he’s a dessert topping and a floor cleaner. Not for him the court-mandated taking of medication, no. Rebellion all the way, McMurphy!
dir: Tom Hooper
This might shock you, or anyone else, but I thought Les Misèrables was glorious.
What, I’m not allowed to like a musical? You, of all people, are going to cast aspersions on my sexuality?
Fah, well, obviously I’m not totally comfortable with going out on a limb and praising a hellishly successful film based on a hellishly successful West End/Broadway musical based on a book no-one finishes reading, but I’m a rebel like that. It’s just my way.
I’ve never seen nor heard anything from the musical my entire adult life. If I did (which is probably the case; it’s been impossible to ignore at certain times), then it slid off my brain like lube off a duck’s back, being a topic I never had interest in. 1980s musicals all come down to a horrible agglomeration of Cats / Evita / Starlight Express / Phantom of the Opera, none of which ever sparked any aspect of my curiousity, and I probably know more about rugby than I know about those kinds of icky musicals.
So I come to this story and to these songs very much a virgin, probably much alike the young Fantine (Anne Hathaway), naïve and hopeful, when she first met the man who would go on to ruin her life by despoiling her virtue with his honeyed lies, only to abandon her when autumn came. The difference for me is that while this film seduced me wantonly, I am left alive and grateful at its end, and not toothless, tubercular and utterly destroyed, though it almost feels like that after all the goddamn crying.
This film, this production, doesn’t try to do any more with the initial Victor Hugo story than it needs to, since it isn’t an adaptation of the novel, but of the musical from the 1980s. So there is an inbuilt audience for this movie that has greeted it the way meth addicts greet a visit from the meth dealer fairy: open arms, open legs, and open mouths (not filled, alas, with ground-down teeth).
Such an audience has its opposite. That’s how the universe is structured; matter/anti-matter, positive/negative, Spice Girls / The Spazzies. And goddamn, does that opposite group hate it. Far more people are calling this the worst thing they’ve ever endured, from root canals to colonoscopies, and, of course, they’re entitled to their worthless opinions, as are we all. Part of it I think is that it’s a musical, and the mass audience for musicals isn’t there like it was in, I dunno, the 1940s.
And operas and Gilbert and Sullivan follies aren’t exactly on the lips and Twitter streams of most people these days. Even more than that, I think there’s a kind of snobbery at play at well. It’s the very popularity of the musical in the 1980s and 1990s that (some) people remember and look down on, as if such a musical is somehow a ‘lower’ form of entertainment.
Oh, those unwashed, easily entertained masses, what with their bread and circuses and Ed Hardy clothing; they’re just so vulgar, aren’t they?
Truth be told, this is pretty much the attitude I had towards this whole ‘event’ before I watched the flick. I was expecting something of sub-Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber quality simply because of the multitude of simpering middle-aged women who’ve gushingly informed me that watching a production of Les Miz was the highpoint of their otherwise cat-filled lives. The ubiquity of it kind of made me loathe it without actually being ubiquitous enough for me to know anything about it, know any of the songs or recognise any of the music.
So. When I finally got to watch it, I felt like I was being expertly punched in the face, heart and groin by an epic, overblown, passionate, histrionic production that never paused, never relented in its depiction of a profoundly bleak and unfair world in which the only possible salvation comes from moments of grace, mere moments of kindness.
After all, it’s called Les Misèrables. My French isn’t that great, but I think that translates to The Miserables, but I’m not completely sure. Maybe I should look it up.
dir: Quentin Tarantino
So, saviour of humanity that he is, using the magic of cinema to correct or at least exact retribution for the crimes of the past, Tarantino does for the slaves in Django Unchained what he did for the Jews in Inglourious Basterds: he gets historical revisionist revenge, REVENGE!
I don’t know how much moral or philosophical thinking goes into what he does, but Tarantino doesn’t really strike me as a director who has an agenda beyond making films that look like and reference other films. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I’ve enjoyed so many of his films (to wildly different degrees) that to criticise Tarantino for what he doesn’t do (come up with entirely and wholly new themes, aesthetics and plots/stories) ignores what he does do (makes entertaining and sometimes hellishly funny films).
With Django Unchained it’s an even thornier proposition. Sure, it’s entertaining, but I can see how the criticism of trivialising the legacy of slavery in the US is a theoretically valid one. It raises the hackles of the kinds of hackle-ready outrage merchants who thought getting a wholly symbolic and fantastical revenge on Hitler and his high ranking scumbags trivialised the Holocaust in his earlier film.
Both sets of complainants (they’re very different groups with similar modus operandi) would be wrong, but I can respect where they’re coming from. Sure, they’re entitled to their shitty opinions, just like I am, and just like Tarantino is, and they deserve to be heard, and then supported, dismissed or ridiculed as the case may be.
What that claim ignores in this instance is the fact that the mechanics, the infrastructure of slavery, and its abject inhuman cruelty are front and centre in the story. The reason I think a fair few commentators of the conservative variety Stateside have criticised the flick is not for its incredibly over the top violence, or just for the incredibly frequent use of the word “nigger”, but because they don’t like it when mass audiences are reminded of just what building their great nation entailed.
Oh, it was a brutal time in American history. Brutal and incredibly sadistic, and the flick never shies away from depicting, in exaggerated forms, just how horrible and pervasive this institutionalised misery was across the great nation before the Great Emancipator came along and freed everyone and made everything better for ever more.
dir: Lee Toland Krieger
I guess you could call it a romantic comedy, but then how many rom-coms start where the relationship is already over?
We get to see the entire span of Celeste and Jesse’s relationship and marriage in montage over the opening credits, and by the time actors are saying dialogue, we’re shocked when a friend of the central couple, Beth (Ari Graynor) screams at them for still acting like a goofy married couple when they’ve been separated for the last six months.
It’s a shock to them, and it’s a shock to us, because, well, what were we expecting? They lulled us into a false sense of security, by representing their relationship one way, and then cruelly telling us it’s the opposite.
What are we supposed to think? What kind of romance occurs after the break-up? The messy kind. Celeste and Jesse Forever is really about two people who love each other and for whom being in a committed relationship doesn’t really work anymore, can’t work, no matter how many moments they individually and together get where they think maybe they should.
Real life intrudes, it always intrudes. The days where one of them thinks they should get back together is the day the other finds someone completely new out there in the world, and the possibility of having something with someone else sparks briefly. The next day, one of them thinks they’re never going to have it as great as they did with Celeste or Jesse, and this regret causes them to undermine what they have, with the hope that maybe they can go back.
Thing is, you can never go back, because you’re not the same person, or because they’re the same person they were when you left them, and no different result can transpire.
dir: Steven Chbosky
I’m a romantic, but I’m also fairly cynical. I watch a lot of movies, a hell of a lot, as you can probably see from just scrolling down a bit. Most movies don’t move me. Most movies provoke little more than mild interest while their playing, and I sometimes get that curious sensation of walking out of a cinema or pressing stop on the Blu-Ray player or switching cable channels, and being unable to remember, for the life of me, what I just watched.
Few movies move me. The Perks of Being a Wallflower moved me, a lot.
Why do they keep making films and television shows about high school, about coming of age? Because those of us who survive it remember it our whole lives, and we’re always hoping for some way to go back and get it right.
My heart was breaking for Charlie (Logan Lerman) within minutes of the film starting, and then, for the rest of its duration, it kept rebuilding that heart meticulously before smashing it again and again. I felt so much for this character that I started finding it absurd that I was so moved by it.
I’m not so easily moved to tears, but some elements of the human condition appeal to me endlessly, and always will, I hope. Charlie is about to start high school in Pittsburgh, I think, in the early 90s, and he’s dreading it. He has a number of reasons, the main one being that he’s a wallflower, someone who feels they are perpetually on the outside, looking in.
He is terrified of spending school, the rest of his schooling, alone, and calculates the days remaining. As in, the days left until he can go to college.
To him, it looks like everyone else makes friendships effortlessly. They’re always laughing (other people are always happy when you’re stuck in this amber of social anxiety), and the majority of his interactions are with bullies, who don’t even have the decency to put any effort into their bored cruelties. They act as they act because school is an ecology and a hierarchy, and teenagers, after all, are the most conformist creatures of all, rarely rejecting the pushes and pulls they feel.
That’s not a fair thing to say, they’re all different, most of them are decent people already, but for many they have a long way to go before getting there, if at all. Charlie is a sweet kid, which makes his disaffection and his isolation all the more painful. There are people who should be outsiders, and isolated, because they’re horrible shitty people who bring misery to everyone near them, whereas Charlie is alone because he’s shy, sensitive, desperate, and all the other kids can smell it on him, and mock him for it.
He just longs, longs for friendship, for connection with the kids around him. Something like this has to be delicately done to avoid being mawkish or making the protagonist seem like a self-centred jerk, and the film manages that throughout. I would expect that the director ‘gets’ how important it is to tell Charlie’s story properly, since the same chap who wrote the novel directed the flick, and did a tremendous job sensitively bringing it to life.
dir: Wayne Blair
Obscure bits of people’s histories: It’s almost like they happened just to give filmmakers something to make movies about.
I don’t need to be told that this flick is based on a true story, or that it varies significantly from the truthful aspects of the ‘true story’. What matters to me, in this instance, isn’t verisimilitude, it’s entertainment. Australian flicks generally aren’t ever going to be able to get budgets to make something credibly ‘period-piece’ unless it just involves a bunch of people sitting indoors with doilies everywhere and archival stock footage akimbo.
When they do get a huge budget, you get unwatchable crap like Baz Luhrman’s Australia, which was a national disgrace and a true blight upon our history.
Maybe we’re better off with small budgets in that case. I’m sure this flick used its budget well. It looks nice enough, everything’s well shot and in focus, and they had enough money for the music rights to some nice golden oldies from the era. And I hope everyone got paid reasonably well, and that the catering was choice.
They could also afford the time and salary of someone from overseas who, in this case, is Chris O’Dowd, who’s very welcome, at least to me. The film’s called The Sapphires, but he’s probably the star of the film. They couldn’t call it Dave and Some Other People, well, just because. He seems to get most of the funny dialogue, he is the character with the most character, and if he overwhelms the rest of the cast somewhat, well, it's a small price to pay to spend some time in his wonderful company.
If he reminded me of anyone, it was Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own, just with slightly less tobacco chewing/spitting and way less Madonna. He plays the group's manager, whose great ambition, once they hear about it, is to play some tunes and shimmy in front of American troops in Vietnam. During the war! In 1968, no less, when things were anything but pleasant for any of the people concerned.
It's seems like a strange ambition for an all girl Aboriginal pop group from the back of Burke (though they're really from some place that proves unpronounceable to anyone except the girls themselves). For them it's a ticket out of a nice (perhaps too nice) rural existence and the daily humdrum of pernicious and ever-present racism, and the boredom that comes from not performing in front of lots of hot, sweaty African-American men.
dir: Paul Thomas Anderson
I think Paul Thomas Anderson makes the weirdest Oscarbait films in the whole world. Even more so than obscure Mongolian yak herders turned filmmakers and all of France. The Master is another strange film, with a goofy ending, to add to the pile of strange films this man puts out there into the world, for our adulation and confusion.
For years leading up to its release, I kept hearing that The Master was going to be an expose on the creator of Scientology and the whole stinking cult itself. Then publicists and such backtracked those comments, fearful of incurring the wrath of the Church and its powerful devotees, you know, people like John Travolta, Tom Cruise and Will Smith. Who wants those angry, frightening people pissed off with you?
Having watched the film now, I mean, obviously, since I’m reviewing it, I am none the wiser. I mean the so-called Master of the title is played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, that great pink honey glazed ham of an actor, and he’s called Lancaster Dodd. Lancaster Dodd isn’t the same as L. Ron Hubbard, is it, but there are enough consonants in common to give it some kind of commonality.
And the cult here isn’t called Scientology, it’s called The Cause. Totally different. And the chap at the centre of things is accused, at certain points, of making the shit up as he goes along, and gets very shirty with people when they question the length and breadth of his genius.
Obviously, that makes The Cause the complete polar opposite of a genuine and true religion like Scientology. And instead of urging devotees of the faith to strive to get to Clear, here, they’re striving to get to Perfect instead.
What does any of this matter? Not a hill of beans, not a cracker. Knowing anything about Hubbard and his highly profitable charade is not necessary for enjoying this film, if ‘enjoyment’ is the actual objective, which, I would argue, is far from what a person can reasonably expect. In fact, enjoying a film like this is almost an impossibility unless you’re the kind of film wanker who can easily disregard all the elements that usually make a flick something you can enjoy. Thankfully, I’ve got it in spades.
dir: Peter Ramsay
Many, many years ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a galaxy just like this one except it smelled a little bit like juniper berries, I watched a film at a mysterious place called a cinema. That film was called The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Yeah, I knew it was Christian propaganda going into it. Yeah, I knew it couldn’t really be that great, considering the source material. But it did have Tilda Swinton in a key role, and that’s almost enough for me to justify watching any flick.
In this movie were four kids going on adventures. Three of the kids were painful to listen to and even more painful to watch trying to act. I didn’t mind it too much, this being a childish fantasy, after all, and one of the first books I can remember reading all on my own.
The moment that had me standing up in fury and yelling at the screen as if the actors themselves could hear me, and the director, the assistant directors and their assistants could hear me too, was the moment where Santa Claus comes out of nowhere and gives the kids all the tools they’ll need to beat the evil Snow Queen.
I screamed “Oh come on! It isn’t ludicrously far-fetched enough already, you’ve got to drop that fat fuck Father Christmas on us as well? Give us a goddamn break!”
This flick here, Rise of the Guardians, doesn’t play ‘hide-the-Santa’ on us for an unpleasant surprise; he’s there right from the start. Only you can decide whether it makes something unbelievable untenable as entertainment, like it did for me with that Narnia flick, or whether your deep love of Christmas makes anything with Santa in it immediately better.
This is, pretty much, The Avengers for the under 10 set. Any kid older than that probably downloaded illegally a copy of Avengers onto their iPad and was watching it before their grandparents ever tried and failed to be all contemporary and with-it by saying “Oh, yes, The Avengers, didn’t Patrick Macnee pull off the bowler hat and umbrella combination rakishly, and that Diana Rigg as Mrs Peel? Rawr!”