dir: Mike Birbiglia
We’ve all got to start somewhere.
This is a curious movie, in that it’s directed by a chap who’s playing himself (under a pseudonym), essentially in a re-enactment of his own life, surrounded by actors. Mike becomes Matt, Birbiglia becomes Pandamiglio, in a pointless charade that’s never intended to shade the truth, or ‘truth’, as the case may be, that This is His Life!
Birbiglia has been dining out on this story for years, and has managed to transform it into the substance of his stand-up (he’s a comedian, in case you didn’t know), a one-man stage show, a book and now a film. I’ve been hearing this story for years, as he’s honed it down to its sharpest edge, from watching Matt doing his routine, hearing it on my iPod and through multiple podcasts essentially saying the same words verbatim. I never tire of the story.
Most of all, I’ve heard excerpts of the story on podcasts from This American Life, probably my favourite of the twenty or so podcasts I listen to with religious, if not disturbing, regularity. It’s a podcast that is the new media version of the radio program from Chicago Public Radio produced by Ira Glass (who of course gets a cameo in this film, as a photographer at Mike–Matt’s sister’s wedding). So it comes as no surprise that they, being WBEZ Chicago and IFC, chipped money in to let Mike transform his multi-format extravaganza into a movie.
This is probably the last version of it, you’d think, until holograms come along. The thing is, or the thing that will seem fairly weird to someone who knows nothing of Birbiglia or his tale is that the story he’s been mining for laughs for close to a decade is a very unique story, a very small story. It only happened to Mike, and no-one else, but, in the telling, like for any decent storyteller, he’s woven it into the fabric of his life at the time and crafted it so it says something more than just about the occurrence itself.
dir: Walter Salles
Unfilmable books make for interesting films.
On the Road has been on that list of “Great” American Novels like Tropic of Cancer, Catcher in the Rye, Pale Fire, The Sound and the Fury, a bunch of others, that people never thought could be adapted to the big screen.
But then you think of the flicks made from Naked Lunch and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, or further afield to the flicks made from otherish books like Perfume or Cloud Atlas, and it makes it more the question of not “whether” but “how well”, as in, anything can be adapted, but not everything is adapted well, just like with any book.
Kerouac’s classic novel would always have made a good film, if the people involved knew what they were doing, and what they should avoid doing. The biggest problem it would have had is that even in a quality realisation, the flick would always (now) look just like every other road movie that’s ever come out in the last fifty years.
The majority of the flick isn’t, perhaps, on the actual road as the travellers travel down that road, but it certainly feels like it, and where it almost glows with purpose. Far more, comparatively, is spent watching these people smoke, drink and fuck in scummy apartments and dishevelled domiciles across the Americas as these people, these people, live their lives in the pursuit of life itself.
Sal Paradise (Sam Reilly) is, essentially, Jack Kerouac, the author of the novel of the film that bears its name, but the clever conceit the film uses in its adaptation of the book is that it’s not the ‘book’, per se. It’s like a depiction of the experiences, the impressions, the heady moments that eventually got Sal / Jack where he needed to get to in order to be able to write On the Road.
The recent death of his father leaves Sal at something of a loose end. He lives with his French-Canadian mother, working a sequence of shitty jobs, but he has the desire, the intention, the pretentions to aspire to write. Like many people who want to write but don’t know what to write about, he thrills at any opportunity to absorb what he can from fellow contemporaries. He has a somewhat unlikely friendship with a very exuberant gay poet called Carlo Marx (Tom Sturridge) amongst a bunch of others, but essentially what this then connects him to is Dean, Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund).
In case you know something about the Beats, the Beat Generation, all those jerks, Carlo is Allen Ginsberg of Howl fame, and Dean is Neal Cassady of being Neal Cassady fame.
Dean’s the man, the absolute Man. Every woman wants to fuck him, and every man, including Sal, wants to be him. And in plenty of cases throughout the film, the men want to fuck him too.
dir: Richard Linklater
Well, that was weird.
I am unsure how much of this flick is a flick and how much of it is documentary, since there is a lot of footage that doesn’t seem to be footage of actors acting.
Let me be blunt by pointing out something very secret, almost unheard of: American tv and cinema is a very discriminatory, very harsh environment. It is cruel and unforgiving. The tyranny of the slim and gorgeous is absolute in this form of media. As it should be.
I say this as a staunchly unattractive man myself, so don't go thinking that I think I'm some lithe, brutishly handsome mash-up of Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hardy. Far from it, sadly, far far from it, though it's an intriguing combination, as opposed to the rather actual combination I possess: sad old boot, wildebeest, wobbegong shark and afghan rug that genuinely comprises my DNA.
No, my point is essentially that American movies never usually have this many incredibly unattractive people in the one place at the one time unless there's a damn good reason. Plenty of other countries make movies with less than attractive people in them. British cinema seems entirely dedicated to bringing unattractive actors to the forefront so we can all gawk at them like we're looking at the freaks at a particularly anachronistic carnival.
They are all here for a purpose, a dubious one at that. They're here to keep things real. They're here to emphasise the reality of the story they're talking about, because when it's average looking humanoids, you know it's got to be 'real'.
But here's the real kicker: they are 'real' people, as in, there are people in this film who actually knew the subject of the film, being a guy called Bernie, obviously, and they talk about him all the time, and this is interspersed with Jack Black playing the character for our entertainment and edification.
Confused? I still am. It's not a documentary, at least, as far as I could tell, any of the scenes with obvious actors in them were not scenes shot for a documentary. But the film uses so much interview footage that clearly doesn't have actors talking, that the line between the two forms is a fine one.
dir: Phyllida Lloyd
Damn, that Maggie, she was a bit of a saucy tyrant, eh? Sorry, that’s Baroness Thatcher to the likes of you and me, fellow bloody peasants.
It’s still a freaky occurrence that Maggie, or any woman for that matter, rose to power to lead the Tory party to successive victories at Britain’s polls, and was, for various reasons, one of the most powerful persons in the world, let alone powerful women. For various reasons, the leadership of Golda Meir, or Indira Ghandi or any other women who’ve risen to (elected) power is more explainable than Maggie’s seizure of the reins.
Those driving forces, personal and societal, will remain a sweet mystery for you, perhaps even becoming more mysterious for you, after having watched this flick, because it never comes close to giving us an inkling of how or why any of it happened.
That’s not entirely fair. Maggie, as portrayed here, is possessed of implacable ambition and an iron will. She’s also highly intelligent, and deeply committed to her father’s conservative views about the wonderfulness of hard-working middle-class people, and the worthlessness of the lower orders of society.
Scratch that, I just remembered that Thatcher once famously said that there was no such thing as society. So there’s no society to speak of. However, if such a thing actually existed, then Maggie would be against it, not for it.
Meryl Streep won the Academy Award for this role, and it’s hard to argue that it’s not a great performance. It is. It truly is. Her rendering, her recreation of the woman is nothing short of frightening. She imbues her with far more than just a competent impression would. She summons up this horrible / admirable creature from the abyss for all of us to behold, in all her ignominious glory.
Wait, what? Maggie’s not dead yet? I know that, I’m just saying that the Maggie Meryl summons for us is from a time when Maggie was still lucid, and fearsome. She is neither now, having long ago fallen down the dementia rabbit hole, possibly some time in the 1980s. I kid, I kid, she’s great, she’s all right.
dir: David Cronenberg
Famous and frightening Canadian director Cronenberg’s love affair with Viggo Mortensen continues, with every film he comes up with having Viggo in a crucial role. Who can blame him? Viggo is awesome. And even more than Viggo being thoroughly awesome, he was also great in those last two flicks of his, being A History of Violence and Eastern Promises.
Michael Fassbender’s no slouch in the awesomeness department either, so casting these chaps as Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, the two titans of psychoanalysis in the early part of the 20th Century, would seem like a sure-fire box office blockbuster.
Maybe not. Both of these chaps bring solid acting chops to a story that isn’t that well known. Freud’s name is common currency, but Jung’s not as prevalent, since people don’t make Jungian slips that often, perhaps, or at least they don’t admit to it. The point of this story, however, is not a biopic about the lives of the two men instrumental into identifying and pathologising a lot of the craziness out of there. It’s about Jung’s relationship with a crazy woman, played very crazily by Keira Knightley foremost, and then it’s about the falling out between Freud and Jung.
Fassbender gets a lot, if not the lion’s share of the screen time. His Jung is a restrained, brilliant man who searches, endlessly searches for knowledge. The conflicts that arise for him come about mostly because of his frustrated desires as they relate to his wife, his patient Sabine (Knightley), and his relationship with Freud, the stern patriarch of their newly ploughed field of psychoanalysis.
Unfortunately. Keira Knightley gets too much screen time. Any screen time is too much. At her ‘craziest’, to indicate how out there Sabina is, she does this really weird thing where she looks like she’s unhinged her jaw like a Burmese python trying to swallow some poor creature whole. She juts that thing out there, frightening more than the children. As her sanity increases, we can thank the gods that the jaw jutting reduces in frequency and distance.
dir: Lee Tamahori
Jesus Christ, or maybe by the grace of Allah, this Uday Hussein was a sick fuck!
I remember the stories from back in the day, around the time of the first Iraqi Adventure, where the tales of Saddam’s sons being monsters were coming out, and I just thought, “Eh, they’re just being mean.”
And then the many and varied stories of what a demented sociopath he was, to the extent where he shamed his own tyrant of a father, slaughterer of innocents and torturer of people who disagreed with him, and there was little doubt.
Of the many controversies regarding the second Iraqi Adventure Part II in 2003, one of the only aspects that has never troubled me were the reports of the deaths of Uday and Qusay Hussein. See, in my limited knowledge and understanding of history, and especially history as it applies to people, the only monsters often worse than the despots and tyrants who seize power in bloody times and rule their people with an iron fist caked in shit, are their sons.
See, Saddam was as bad if not worse than everything ever said about him, obvious even to someone who’s village didn’t have nerve gas dropped on it. But he’s the one who seized power. He’s the one who maintained complicated social – tribal – regional ties intact in order to maintain his steely grip on power. He’s the one who earned the fear that his name invoked. He’s the one who sent people to Abu Ghraib to be tortured to death, who invaded Kuwait, who started the war with Iran and sent a millions souls to their doom. He earned the fear his name engendered.
Shitbirds like his sons, bored feckless fuckwits, got away with all their numerous, icky crimes against their own people, worked only on their sense of unique entitlement, and exhibited no control over their own impulses because their father’s power kept everyone else in check.
dir: Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman
Wow – can you imagine, even for a second, anything as totally fucking thrilling as a movie about a poem? You can’t, your petty little mind can’t encompass anything as utterly mind-blowing as that without having an aneurysm, for sure.
So be warned, those of jaded palates and timid dispositions – here comes Howl to blow away your petty lives and sclerotic brains.
Yeah, well, maybe the fuck not.
A poem is just a poem, after all, and Howl, the movie, doesn’t even conform to the basic parameters of ‘movieness’ enough to imply that this is a movie about the life and times of Allen Ginsberg, Poet Laureate of the Beat Generation, and his writing of the epic poem Howl. What it is, is something more, and far less at the same time.
It’s far less, because James Franco plays Ginsberg in the 1950s as a fairly young man, basically giving a monologue about ‘his’ life and times before, during and slightly after the writing and performance of Howl. In between footage of himself reading the poem aloud to some lousy beatniks at some hovel of a beatnik club, he sits there talking about himself, mostly in black and white, but sometimes in colour. The colour bits where he sits there in his flannel shirt with a fake beard pasted on have the unfortunate effect of making it look like he’s playing George Lucas, instead of Ginsberg. You could hardly think of a worse fate for a man.
The ‘young’, vital bits are in black and white, since as we all know, the world, back in 1955 was monochromatic, awaiting the dawning of colour. He reads a bit, the lousy beatnik crowd nod their heads (they yell out ‘yeah’ instead of clapping or clicking their fingers), then he talks to the interviewer a bit, then they show an animated rendering of imagery from Howl, which verily bursts from the screen in its vividness.
There’s a plethora of animated cocks, for those who like that sort of thing, and who doesn’t?
dir: Danny Boyle
Whatever problems I might have had with Danny Boyle’s films in the past, whatever misgivings I might have had dwindled to nothing fifteen minutes into this film. In the first few minutes I was worried that I was going to be watching something closer to The Beach or Life Less Ordinary end of Boyle’s oeuvre, rather than the actually watchable, decent end of the Boylian spectrum (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Slumdog Millionaire).
But then something happened at exactly 15 minutes in, and the title flashed up on the screen, and I realised that Aron Ralston’s (played by James Franco) real story had just started.
And oh holy fuck what a story it is.
That it’s a true story, and a very narrowly defined story, based entirely on the relevant 127 Hours in question of Ralston’s life, would almost make you think that telling this story in movie form would be impossible. Telling it well, at least. Telling it poorly would seem to be piss-easy. Telling it so that it’s heroically bad would take real hack skills, some of which Boyle has hinted at in the past.
Instead, they (all the people involved, like Boyle’s longtime writing collaborator Simon Beaufoy, but especially Danny Boyle, but especially James Franco, but Especially Boyle!) make a lot of good, strange decisions in order to make a story about a guy trapped under a rock interesting.
When I say interesting, that’s not to say that there aren’t moments where I felt frustrated and trapped. But imagine how this poor bastard felt! Isn’t it fair that we, too, experience some of that feeling?
dir: Floria Sigismondi
The mark of a film succeeding in its job, in this case when it’s based on real events, is usually that after watching it, you know more about the subject matter than before.
Right now, at this moment in time, I know just as much about The Runaways as I did before watching this flick, except for two minor facts: that their manager was a total creep, and that the band members used to lez out at the drop of a hat.
Other than that, it’s not very educational. But then again, it doesn’t really need to be. You could argue that if a flick about the Spice Girls of their era captures the essence of the time (mid seventies, as punk was exploding across the world), and the essence of what made the band noteworthy (that they were a briefly successful all-girl rock band), then it’s achieved its mission.
That’s not what I’m arguing. I said you could argue that. I couldn’t.
Based on this flick, the two major achievements The Runaways are responsible for are a) that it launched the eventual career of Joan Jett, whose most famous single is still a mainstay on golden oldie radio, and b) it gave Kristen Stewart, the notorious non-actor from those godawful Twilight flicks, something to do in between the production of those godawful Twilight flicks.
dir: Michael Mann
John Dillinger is not really one of those names that lights up the night sky or the imagination, at least anywhere apart from the US. I’m sure he’s Robin Hood and Ayn Rand all rolled into one in the States, but to the rest of the world, if we know anything about him, it’s that he was alive at some point in the past, and is now dead.
And in the immortal words of Homer Simpson, “If he’s so smart, why is he dead?”
Well, Johnny Depp, the dapper gent himself, and Michael Mann, the cop and crim obsessed-director, thought it was time to resurrect the tale of the Depression era populist ‘hero’, and his subsequent demise. Mann puts his particularly Mannish spin on things by emphasising the cool professionalism with which Dillinger and his crew conducted themselves. And, of course, the professionalism of Dillinger’s main opponents, Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) and J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup), also have to act as a parallel counterbalance.
Of course, all of this occurs independent of, and, in most cases, in direct contradiction to the established history of these events.
But, let’s be serious about this, does it really matter? Do I really care that the real Melvin Purvis was nowhere near Dillinger when he kicked the bucket, or that they never met in reality in order to have one of those “we’re so similar despite being on opposite sides of the law, I could almost respect you, but I’ll kill you given half a chance” moments that Mann has loved having in his films since Heat?
No, I don’t. I don’t want this to be a documentary. I couldn’t care less about the facts regarding Dillinger’s life previous to watching this flick, and I care even less now. I wanted to be entertained. And I was, for a good long while. The problem is that this flick, for no discernible reason, goes for two and a half long hours. I can honestly and accurately say that I was entertained for its first 90 minutes. I can’t say that about the rest of it.
dir: Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund
What a fantastic, fiery, raucous flick. Brazilian cinema has come into its own and is now its own exportable genre because of City of God. I’m sure they were making films for decades before this, but this flick blew a lot of people away and made them start noticing a great kind of cinema from a previously unheard region.
Since then, the Brazilian flicks that have been appearing at my local arthouse cinema and on the shelves of my local vid store are all united by common threads: they’re based on true stories, they centre around crime and poverty, and they’re about larger than life characters living in cities so extreme as to almost seem like science fiction. But they exist. They’re real. The slum called City of God, or Cidade de Deus in their native Portuguese tongue, is a real place. They didn’t have to build sets, hire extras and dress them in costumes, or make anything up.
Of course this isn’t a documentary, don’t get me wrong. But it’s a pretty real film about a real life lived by millions in the most prosperous country in Latin America.
dir: Gregor Jordan
Australia has a long and varied history of making movies its own citizens hate. Most countries obviously have their own film industries, none which match the economies of scale available to US production, or the rapid fire super cheap production levels of countries like India or Hong Kong. Australia makes comparatively less films than most industrialised countries, but is at least to my mind unique in that the main hurdle its films have to first traverse and generally stumble over is the idea of ‘cultural cringe’ and the antipathy of the local audience. Antipathy means more than just not giving a fat rat’s arsehole: it’s active dislike.
There’s a better and more expansive explanation out there for everything that cultural cringe entails. Essentially, it refers to the concept that representations of Australia and Australians are uniquely unpalatable to domestic audiences, and generally found to be embarrassing or, more obviously, cringeworthy. Some say it has to do with the explicit anti-intellectualism of mainstream Australian society, others point to the perception that, apart from being generally badly made, the way Australians are portrayed in our own films is hokey, parochial and distorted, rendering characters into nothing more than risible caricatures.
dir: James Mangold
Johnny Cash. The Man in Black. An icon and a music legend. Contemporary of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bob Dylan, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Waylon Jennings, and a stack of others, influenced by and influential to them all. Could a two and a half hour film do him and his life justice? Can Joaquin Phoenix and the toothsome Reese Witherspoon do the story of the Big Big Love between Cash and June Carter justice? Or even get close?
Someone as simultaneously recognisable and mysterious as Cash needs a twenty hour film about his life. With a squillion dollar budget, all the CGI in the world, and the best actors and production people alive or dead (resurrected) to work on it. It would need a director who combines the spirit and ability of Leni Reifenstahl, Sergei Eisenstein, Otto Preminger, Carl Dreyer, John Ford, John Huston, Akira Kurosawa and Jean Renoir to get it right. It would need the greatest actors culled from history, put into a blender until gooey, with their DNA spliced and respliced until the mixture was just right, re-coded up into the greatest actor possible, which would then be discarded anyway in favour of a resurrected, young, vital, dangerous Johnny Cash to play the lead.
Clearly such a collaboration and combination of events will never happen anywhere apart from in my fevered, amphetamine-fuelled imagination. Such is life. Long ago, whilst working as a scullery maid for a cruel mistress, I’d realised life for me was going to be a perpetual sequence of disappointments punctuated with mere moments of mirthless pleasure. So I’m not surprised that this film doesn’t meet the meagre criteria I magnanimously set forth for it.
That doesn’t make it any the lesser. For what it is, Walk the Line is an enjoyable and competent enough film. Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny, and Witherspoon as June Carter put in decent performances. But the film is still a superficial look at the Man’s life, hobbled by the same problems that neuter most biopics about musical, genre-straddling legends.
dir: Mary Harron
It's a crime that it's taken this flick so long to get distribution in Australia, because this really contained probably the best performance by an actress in a film released in 2006. Sure, there's no way Gretchen Mol could have beat the murderous juggernaut that was Helen Mirren, but she deserved some recognition at least. It's only been released here yesterday (8/3/2007), and will probably have an ignominious two-week run before disappearing into DVD obscurity.
Which isn't the worst fate in the world. It's kind of appropriate, considering the subject matter. And what is the subject? Why, it's the notorious Bettie Page, of course!
Bettie Page, for her time, was probably the main lust object and idealised non-attainable masturbation aid for squillions of men, lonely and otherwise, across America. She has probably been responsible for more shameful, furtive, blind-making male orgasms than Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe and the Virgin Mary combined.
But practically no-one could tell you anything about her apart from the fact that she was in millions of smutty, smutty pictures.
She's not a real person: she is an icon. An icon loses its origins and enters the realm of the purely symbolic at the point where the line between the source and the image disappears. All you can glean is in the expression on the face, the stance used to playfully hold the whip, with nothing else as background. As symbol, not person, she comes to symbolise a pure, perversely innocent sexuality to the masses.
Even when she was decked out in the most cumbersome and painful fetish wear on the planet, there was something about her which will make her memorable long after Anna Nicole Smith's breast implants have finally broken down in her grave. Which should be thousands of years from now.
As the film alludes to with the title, sure, she was infamous, but none of the jerk-offs jerking off to her knew anything about her. You can't really call the 50s an innocent time, but it's not like nudity, smut imagery or boobies were invented then. But it was a strange time where the normally Puritanical States was still trying to stem the tide in terms of what the US would become: the biggest producer and consumer of smut in the world. USA! USA! USA!
dir: Brian W. Cook
Don’t, whatever you do, mistake this flick for a biography of the great Colossus of the cinema that was Stanley ‘Grumpy Pants’ Kubrick.
No, John Malkovich plays the unbelievable role of a crazy conman who used to tell people he was Stanley Kubrick, despite the fact that he looked nothing like him, didn’t try to sound like him, and didn’t even know what films Kubrick directed.
He is so bad at impersonating him that it becomes more a reflection on the people who get sucked in rather than an example of his skills as a charlatan. It is both their gullibility and their simplemindedness in the face of potential celebrity that renders them ripe for the picking.
Of course, the other element that favoured Alan Conway’s deceptions was the fact that Kubrick himself was a bit of a recluse, and there weren’t many photos of him in common circulation. Looking at the extravagant lengths to which Conway virtually begs to be caught out makes you wonder just how gullible people are out there.
This little film is directed by someone who actually knew and had worked with Kubrick in the past, which means he is eminently unqualified to make a film about a flimflammer he never met. But at least he can ensure Malkovich looks and acts nothing like Kubrick to make the illusion complete.
dir: Gus Van Sant
You would have thought that the acclaimed documentary The Life and Times of Harvey Milk would have pretty much covered the story of this incandescently flamboyant political icon of the 1970s. But, let’s be honest: unless someone wins an Academy award and fictionalises the fuck out of a story, we don’t really care.
And why have footage of Harvey Milk playing Harvey Milk in a documentary about himself when you can have Sean Penn overacting all over the place instead?
So much better. To be fair, Penn mostly controls himself and delivers what is a stand-out performance in a career defined by stand-out performances, overacting, having been married to Madonna and beating up paparazzi.
I knew plenty of the details surrounding Milk’s death moreso than his life, because of the hilarious manner in which the person who murdered him used one of the most incredible defences in order to beat the rap and reduce his clearly cold-blooded and premeditated crime to an act of junk food-fuelled manslaughter due to diminished capacity. Of course the truth of what was actually argued by his defence team and what has become the pop culture meme of the “twinkie defence” are two completely different things.
dir: Nicolas Winding Refn
I thought I’d seen everything. But then I saw Bronson.
In some ways, it’s one of the strangest movies I’ve ever seen. That it is based on a true story is almost immaterial, since it’s still highly fictionalised and hyper stylised as well. And there isn’t really any story or plot, which itself is less interesting that the rendering of it, because there’s only so much you can do or say about a person as remarkable as Michael Peterson, sorry, I meant Charlie Bronson.
Though it is a biopic, it’s not a biography of legendary dead actor Charles Bronson, whose Death Wish films, numbers I to V, brought sensitivity and nuance to the debate regarding crime, immigration and vigilantism in modern America. No, this flick is about an absolutely incompetent career criminal who is clearly insane and who elects to call himself Charlie Bronson. He is still alive, so I better be careful what I say.
Not that he’s ever likely to see the light of day.
dir: Ed Harris
Only recently did I have the honour of catching Ed Harris’ Pollock on DVD, at a time where it seems I’ve been watching a lot of biopic ‘prestige’ movies. You know the ones: labour of love projects produced, directed by and/or starring relatively Big Name Hollywood personages where they wish to be permanently associated with some famous artist from the recent or distant past and hopefully net themselves critical and Oscar worthy acclaim. I mean films like The Hours (at least the part with Nicole Kidman in it as Virginia Woolf), Frida (where Salma Hayek showed she had at least a little bit more to offer than just her splendid figure, but not that much), and this here pearl cast before us swine.
No, the film isn’t anti-Polish propaganda. It is about the life and times of Jackson Pollock, arguably one of the most important American artists of the last fifty years. Possibly, I don’t know how these things are measured. Especially considering the fact that most people look at his paintings and say shit like “My five year old could do a better finger painting than that!” The fact is that what is considered influential and important art isn’t always accessible to and by the purported ‘public’ that is the rest of us. I know enough about his painting and his life to know the context of his work as an abstract expressionist, but not the nitty gritty aspects of his life that motivated him, that drove him. After watching the film I’m still really left none the wiser.
dir: Steve McQueen
When I heard that there was this apparently really cool film that was going to come out, and that it was directed by Steve McQueen, my first question was: “Isn’t he dead?” My next question was “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck had nothing better to do with its fucking time?”
The answers to both questions, surprisingly enough, are “Yes” and “Not much.” Steve McQueen is some artist, not the classic actor from Great Escape, The Getaway and Bullit. The car did most of the acting in Bullit, I admit, but no, McQueen is some other guy which doesn’t mean that the original McQueen is doing a Tupac Shakur from beyond the grave, releasing stuff despite the minor inconvenience of being dead.
The one thing I’ve never heard or seen in any of the reviews of this flick, which have been uniformly positive, is that the film would actually make me sick. I’m not, as is my wont, exaggerating or embellishing like I usually do. In the last fifteen or so minutes of the flick, when Michael Fassbender, who plays Bobby Sands, really earns his keep, the image of his emaciated and lesion/sore covered body comes up on the screen.
When I saw this, I was overwhelmed by a feverish nausea, and I actually fainted. It’s the only time this has ever happened to me. I literally hit the ground. I still have a bruise and a swollen bit above my eyebrow where I hit a coffee table on my journey to the floor. No drugs or booze played any role in this. I wish I was making this up, but I’m not.
dir: Bob Fosse
The film is not about Lenny Kravitz; it’s not about Lenny from The Simpsons. It is about the Lenny who lords over all other Lennys; the Lenny who took on the Establishment and lost. Lenny Bruce was doing his part for free speech and revealing American society’s hypocrisy back when the majority of American comics were still doing mother in law jokes and that gag about “I just flew in from Chicago, and boy are my arms tired”.
dir: Andrei Tarkovsky
On the back of my last Tarkovsky review, which was ye oldie Russkie version of Solaris, which I didn’t like, I watched the next film in his catalogue, which was the semi-auto-partly biographical Mirror.
And I was pretty impressed. The funniest thing is that I could just as easily say the same kinds of things I said in the Solaris review, but here those points are positives and enhance the film, such as it is.
As to what exactly the film is about, I’ve got close to fuck-all idea. Honestly, it’s about everything and nothing at the same time. It’s a tribute to his father and mother and a dreamlike, nostalgic re-rendering of Tarkovsky’s childhood and adulthood and there’s some Spanish people in there and the conflict between a husband who abandons his family after the war who is then young and being trained incompetently in the war and then the mother is someone’s girlfriend instead and and and…
I’ve got no idea. Tarkovky’s father’s poetry makes some appearances, and he was a famous and respected writer in his time, so maybe its purpose (since it’s dedicated to him) is to honour him. Tarkvosky’s younger sister Marina has stated on the record that Tarkovsky used many snaps from the family photo albums to summon up much of the incredible imagery and scenes in this non-linear, multi-dimensional, chaotically coherent film.
Although Mirror is the far more appropriate and poetic title, it could just as easily have been called Tarkovsky: Shit I Remember from My Childhood.
dir: Roman Polanski
"Breathtaking!" "Stunning!" "A Masterpiece!" "Grunties!"
These words are used to describe everything from the most recent Jerry Bruckheimer film to the latest hemorrhoid creams on the market. Superlatives are such an integral part of the marketing hyperbole industry that the words have lost all meaning. Certainly their use, by anyone, especially film critics should be taken not with a grain of salt, but with a quantity of salt not exceeding that available in your average ocean.
That being said, when people you respect (for whatever reason, whether it be their professional credibility or the way they keep handing you lollies until you get into the car with them) start using words like that about a film, you prick up your ears. In this context, some of those words have been applied to The Pianist, and perhaps not without merit. The film has even been honoured at this year's Academy circlejerk, which, whilst not usually an indicator of anything more important than the fact that Hollywood is more insular and inbred than a hillbilly family from the Appalachian mountains (you know, Deliverance country), has for once potentially gotten it right.
dir: Julie Taymor
This will not be the definitive account of Frida Kahlo’s life, I am sure. She’s too interesting a person and an artist to remain bound only by what is presented in this biopic as an account of her life. This film will probably do for now as a somewhat superficial precise of the life of this mercurial Mexican artist. And whilst not a terrible film, it suffers from a lacklustre and cliched script and a major confusion as to where to go halfway through the film.
The real star of this film isn’t Salma Hayek, as Kahlo. It’s not Alfred Molina as Diego Rivera, even though at times it seems as if Frida is merely co-starring in a biopic of his life. Which reminds me, how many people would have gone to see a film about notorious Mexican communist revolutionary artist Diego Rivera, simply called Diego? :) Imagine it, huge billboards above buildings, with a coy picture of chubby Alfred Molina pouting seductively into the camera, with one word writ large against the sky: “DIEGO!” Every man and his dog would be beating down the doors of the cinema, surely.
No, this film’s star is certainly Julie Taymor, powerhouse director of this film, and Titus before it, being a bloodthirsty contemporary adaptation of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus. Her directorial vision and attention to set design and art direction are what make the film memorable or even noticeable. Other than that she must have decided that the constant pointless cameos from “big” Hollywood stars and the perfunctory script were obstacles that could be surmounted with enough creativity. And she’s almost right, in that this is almost an okay film.
But not quite, which is a shame. Although I generally consider her to be a terrible actress, Salma Hayek does a reasonable job in the lead role. Of course she doesn’t really look anything like Frida Kahlo, but that’s by the by. She gives it her all, which really isn’t that much, and she gets by okay. The problem isn’t how she plays the role, but what the film gives her to do. The story lurches along from historical signpost to “Key Moment” with little regard for narrative flow or exegesis as to what made her tick as an artist.
dir: Michael Winterbottom
It's like this film was based on a book written by a Kurt Vonnegut born in the sixties who got to see the glorious birth of punk first hand. It's a fractured, glorious shambles of a film. It doesn't always work, and I had major issues with the second half of the film, but, Jesus, what a ride.
Steve Coogan had made a career out of playing a character that Tony Wilson was the template for way before this film was ever conceived of. Anyone who's ever seen any episodes of Knowing Me Knowing
You with Alan Partridge would know the only real difference between Alan Partridge and Tony Wilson is the wig. It seems fittingly appropriate that he end up playing him for real. You have to ask yourself whether the film is about what it purports to be about: Manchester and the incredible importance it played in the growth of two major scenes in contemporary music.
Wilson himself: erudite, arrogant, Cambridge educated, slumming intellectual resorting to being a television reporter, the scenesters's scenester, hedonistic and passionate, and a consummate liar. My biggest laugh and a moment that summarises Wilson completely is when his wife catches him on the receiving end of a
professional blowjob and he says empathically "Lindsay, it's not what it looks like!" Now THAT is a bullshit
artist par excellence.
dir: Patty Jenkins
This isn’t a story about the redemptive power of love. It isn’t a story where everything will work out all right in the end. It is, in essence, a sad love story all the same.
It would seem to contradict the advertising and many of the reviews already written about the film. Its two main selling points were the fact that Charlize Theron won the Academy award for Best Actress for 2003 in the role, oh, and she happens to play a serial killer. And seeing as it is based on the life and times of Aileen Wuornos, convicted and recently executed killer, you’d think the focus would be more on the killings than any other elements. At its heart, however, it’s about a horribly damaged woman and her desperate attempts at finding some happiness in a world that had guaranteed her thus far a life of ceaseless misery.
For all those people that claim the film excuses her actions and seems to justify them when it attempts to humanise the character that Theron embodies, I have to say, they’re trying really hard to be deliberate fuckwits. I don’t mean people who didn’t like the film itself. I’m never going to criticise a person for not holding the same opinion about a film as myself, that’s just idiotic because film, like everything else in existence, is so subjective. I mean those people that have tut tutted and clucked their tongues because they claim the film is an exercise in apologetics giving justifications and excuses for a person that doesn’t deserve them. I feel like asking them how they manage to read or write anything when their blinkers are strapped on so goddamn tight around their heads. Doesn’t it cut off the circulation?
By humanising her, by making her worthy of our pity it does not imply that we should absolve her for her crimes or her sins. I have nothing to forgive her for, and she certainly doesn’t need my absolution. Perhaps all she is asking for is my understanding, at least a moment’s consideration. That isn’t beyond me, and it certainly isn’t beyond the filmmakers and the performers involved in terms of evoking that remarkably well on the screen. But let’s not forget the apparent crucial facts: she killed seven men, one at least the film clearly imputes was in self-defence, but all the others were what we call “innocent”. We’re under no illusions about her actions, even if she is. We are privy to her choices, her decisions, and we see her for what she is. That doesn’t mean we approve of what she’s does. In fact whilst watching it, despite knowing what I knew about the story, I still desperately hoped at certain points that she wouldn’t do what was clearly inevitable. To watch a person do the unthinkable again and again, and to be okay with it, it’s shocking to any reasonable audience member, which is also why it’s so compelling.