dir: Todd Louiso
Hello, I must be going.
I cannot stay,
I came to say
I must be going.
I'm glad I came
but just the same
I must be going.
You have to imagine Groucho Marx singing it, of course, for the full effect, but that’s where the title of this lovely little movie comes from.
I’m not going to pretend I understand what it means in the context of the movie, its deeper significance and whatnot, but I’ll smile and nod my head if you have an explanation.
Hello, I Must Be Going. is a very quiet, very low-key movie, the kind of movie I really enjoy watching and reviewing, especially after seeing some bloated big budget 3D monstrosity in the Cineplex, gorging both visually, on fake buttered popcorn and my own bile. The central performance is by Melanie Lynskey, a name most people don’t recognise, but when you see her, you go “oh yeah, her. Yeah, she’s pretty good at stuff.”
She’s been working for ages, ever since Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures: that tribute to teenage girls lezzing out and killing people who try to keep them apart. She might not have reached the heights like her co-star Kate Winslet, but she’s been putting in solid work for decades.
This is one of the only times where she’s played the main role in one of her films that I can think of. She’s usually a supporting character, which she’s fine at, but now it’s her time to shine.
Here, in this film we have before us, where not much of anything happens, it’s probably not the perfect opportunity to bust out and declare to the world “I’M HERE, BITCHES, AND I’M READY TO OWN”, because her character is pretty depressed and the story is so low-key and low stakes. Nonetheless very enjoyable, entirely because of her performance and because of the way the story serves her character.
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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: Andrea Arnold
There are probably a million versions of this story, and yet this is the first I’ve watched the whole way through. I know there’s versions with chronic overactors like Laurence Olivier and Ralph Fiennes playing the smouldering Heathcliff, but none of them have ever been compelling enough to compel me to watch them.
I don’t have a good reason as to why. As a pseudo-intellectual pretentious wanker (First Class) who also happens to make millions on the side from writing film reviews read by scores of people, it’s almost a negligent crime to not have read and seen at least fifteen versions of Wuthering Heights by now. I should really turn in my union card before the Goth Union comes after me.
Still, I’ve heard the Kate Bush song hundreds of times, and the even funnier Mr Floppy parody version of Kate Bush’s song, so I thought I’d totally be up on all the details upon finally watching a Wuthering Heights film.
Jeez Louise! I never knew Emily Bronte had such a dirty mouth! They should dig her up and wash her fingertips out with soap for all the shocking, shocking language on aural display here.
There was a moment while watching the film where I kind of clicked that maybe this film had varied somewhat from the established text, when Heathcliff screams at a bunch of toffy aristocrats, in a heavy Yorkshire accent, “Fook all you, you pack o’ koontz”. You thought the biggest variation was having Heathcliff played by a black actor, well, the script seems to be a tad more radical than that particular casting decision.
I never realised how bleak this story was, how vicious and cruel. You hear or read the words “doomed love story” and it conjures images of lovers star-crossed though they be eventually submitting to a cruel fate that conspires to only allow them a brief time of happiness before crushing them utterly. Wuthering Heights doesn’t even have that “brief time of happiness”, it’s about love, but it’s all misery from beginning to end.
dir: David Frankel
Ye gods and little fishes, if there was one message, one singular plea this film seems to be making to us in the audience, it would be thus; like the words of the ancient Queen Elizabeth to the young Orlando in the film of the same name: "Do not wither, do not grow old".
But what choice do we have? No tablet, no serum, no surgery, nothing spares us from the entrenchment of our own awful habits and the miserly ways this film alleges we inevitably fall prey to, far beyond what age naturally and lovingly does to our physical forms.
See, that I can take. The falling apart of the body doesn’t frighten me, since I’ve been falling apart like a rusty cyborg with leprosy for, oh, simply ages now. I expect it just gets easier from here on in, and if I’m wrong, please have the decency not to tell me about it. It’s the emotional ossification, the hardening of one’s life into an unvarying repetitive routine that I find truly terrifying.
I’ll be the first to admit I’m not the target audience for this flick at all. AT ALL. This is clearly and completely aimed at middle-aged heterosexual married women, or older, horrified by what their husbands have become. Worst of all, the loss of the physical intimacy between herself and her husband is the cruellest blow, the last laugh, the hangman’s joke. And for this there is little comfort. Her husband is an angry robot, and, as she contemplates eternity, the last bit of which seems to take forever, she cannot think of any reasons why she should continue to endure his sexless and mechanical presence any longer.
dir: Benh Zeitlin
It’ll come as no surprise to you, dear reader, that I don’t always understand the films I watch. I watch a lot of films, but that doesn’t mean I’m any better at deciphering them than anyone else, including and especially you.
Often that lack of understanding infuriates me, and makes me think less of the flick and the people involved, because I blame them for it. Other times it’s just a reason to be bored, which negates any effort to expend any brain power nutting it out because it doesn’t seem worthy of such labours.
Other times that confusion, if that’s what it is, doesn’t matter, and is of a piece with what I’m watching, and instead of causing me to pull away because of it, it allows me to let go, at least a little bit, of the nagging, querulous critic in my head, and just be embraced by the film. Some of my favourite films defy logical, precise, plodding explanation as to everything that happens in it, what it all means, how it happened or why.
I’m not saying that Beasts of the Southern Wild is now one of my favourite films of all time (it’s a pretty long and potentially embarrassing list), but it manages to capture some of the elements that provoke deep feeling in me, or at least it provoked in me some of the feelings that I mentioned previously.
I can’t think of another film like Beasts of the Southern Wild. It is a chaotic, formless, wet hot mess that I can’t begin to explain or justify, but it not a beautiful story in spite of all that, but probably because of it.
Upon hearing some details of it, people will probably write it off as a magic realist take on the Hurricane Katrina disaster, and while the references and the allusions are inevitable, I would hazard to guess that it’s not about that, really. Then again, I could be wrong about a whole bunch of things both in life and in this film.
Really, it’s about the fierce love of a father for his daughter, and of a daughter for her father, in a chaotic, dangerous, watery world. Hushpuppy (Quvenzhanè Wallis) is a six-year-old girl living in a strange swampy place in Louisiana the residents call The Bathtub. There’s a levee stopping the high waters from further swamping this below sea level place. Guess what's about to happen, go on.
dir: Robbie Pickering
Every now and then you need a quiet, chilled-out flick as a bit of a palette cleanser. A bit of cooling pickled ginger after the burning momentary wasteland of wasabi. A nice, clean beer after a nasty shot of rotgut whisky served in a dirty glass. Most of the last twenty or so films I’ve watched have been pretty intense, so something light and breezy is surely desirable.
Natural Selection is one of those flicks I knew practically nothing about before watching it, other than it was a big hit at the Sundance Film Festival some time or another. Something being a big hit at the Sundance Film Festival doesn’t usually make me want to watch something especially much, in fact it’s more likely to make me recoil in horror and contemplate watching another Michael Bay film instead.
But it was liked by a few people who I take seriously, and so I thought I’d give it a whirl.
It’s an odd bird of a flick, but nonetheless it’s an enjoyable one about a woman going on a very modest journey of reflection and self-discovery. Thankfully, this doesn’t involve Julia Roberts or Tuscany or getting a vibrator for the first time.
But it is oddly enjoyable even without any of that. Linda White (Rachael Harris) is the protagonist, and she’s a nice, God-fearing, God-bothering lady. It would seem unfair to emphasise that she’s an Evangelical Christian, but it’s central to the story, and doesn’t just reflect upon my many and varied biases.
It’s relevant right from the start, because it forms the basis of the entire character, and informs the picture we develop of the last 24 years of her life leading up to these present, interesting days.
dir: Kieran Darcy-Smith
Wow, did I get this one wrong.
This flick was completely not what I thought it would be, either in style or content. For some reason I had this idea it was a light-hearted romantic drama about two Australian couples travelling overseas and finding out stuff about each other and coming to terms with stuff etc.
Spectacularly wrong, incandescently wrong. I could not have been more wrong if I’d thought I was about to watch a film clip for Pink Floyd’s song Wish You Were Here, sung by Christina Aguilera as Lady Gaga spanks her with a rhesus monkey.
It turns out it’s a sly reference to the postcard one used to be able to send, saying the title, as in, Really, I’m Glad That You’re Not Here, But I Just Wanted to Rub Your Nose In the Fact That I’m Here and You’re Not. That’s what it’s always meant in reality, but this flick, which has a black streak through it a mile wide.
There’s a darkness to this flick, a dread which precludes hints at levity or humour, and we’re not sure why at all until the very end. We’re not sure because the flick uses an aggressive editing style to keep us unbalanced and offside, and a non-chronological approach in order to keep us confused and in the dark throughout. There are also hints, feints, red herrings and dead ends throughout the script to keep us guessing, or at least it kept me guessing constantly. Of course it all makes sense in the end, but it’s the getting there that’s the harrowing part.
As the flick starts, as far as we know it starts, we know something has happened. One of the four of a group of Australians has gone missing. We don’t know what’s happened to him, and the three people who return to Australia from Cambodia don’t seem to know what’s happened either.
The waiting’s not the hardest part; it’s the gnawing anxiety that eats away at your insides waiting for something horrible to be found out by the ones you love most. Dave (Joel Edgerton) and Alice (Felicity Price) returned all right, it seems, but they’re clearly worried about what happened to their friend Jeremy (Antony Starr), and they’re really hoping he’s found soon. Clearly.
dir: Lynn Shelton
What is Mark Duplass bribing people with in order to keep turning up in all these films lately? Has he got some great weed? An abundance of serious green bankroll from all those indie megahits he’s co-directed or starred in? A fantastically long penis that not only hits all the right spots but sings a sweet, melancholy torch song afterwards?
However he’s doing it, here he is again, at least from the perspective of my week, in that I’ve accidentally seen him in two films in only a few days. What a harsh coincidence. What cruellest fate in the kindest month.
At the very least I can console myself with the fact that I enjoyed his performance, goofy performance at that, much more than I did in Safety Not Guaranteed. It helps that he’s not playing a mental case here. His character here, all the same, is somewhat depressed, and a bit obnoxious, so it’s not like he’s stretching himself out of all shape or comfort zones.
A group of friends, and the brother (Duplass) of a guy who died the previous year, get together to remember him and to have a drink in his honour. We don’t know who the guy was, but one of the attendees (stand up comedian Mike Birbiglia) gets up and says some nice words, making people, including Iris (Emily Blunt), an ex-girlfriend of the guy, get all misty-eyed and nostalgic.
Jack takes this as an opportunity to unleash a bit of drunken vitriol aimed at his dead brother, chastises the speaker for painting such a rosy picture of the departed, saying that, really, his brother was a bit of a manipulative arsehole as well, relating some obscure part of their shared backstory to illustrate what a prick his brother was.
Of course the other attendees, drinks raised but facial expressions getting somewhat uncomfortable, don’t want to hear this shit. Jack persists, though, he wants people to remember the whole man, and they can’t do that if they just talk about his love of puppies and rainbows.
Maybe he’s got a good point. A year is probably long enough after the fact to not be “too soon” to piss on the grave. His lashing out, though, is seen, at least by Iris, with whom he’s close, as unprocessed grief and lingering depression. She abjures him to snap the fuck out of it. No, she doesn’t do that. She advises him to travel out of Seattle, I’m presuming, and to go stay at her dad’s cabin on some island in order to get his shit together. Jack, being a plot-convenient sort of chap, clearly with no job, takes her up on her suggestion.
dir: Bela Tarr
Sometimes you watch a film knowing you’re not going to enjoy it. It’s with the foreknowledge that the reason for watching the film is not the pursuit of entertainment or escapism; it’s with the expectation that the experience is going to be a difficult one with no promise of redemption or eventual meaning.
What compelled me to watch this film, The Turin Horse, and review it, for you, the utterly nonplussed reader?
Curiousity, dear reader, nothing but curiosity.
I have heard of Hungarian director Bela Tarr, but never seen one of his films before. They are famous, or notorious, for being extremely long, consisting of very long, uncut scenes of people not doing very much. His most famous film, Satantango, is over seven hours long. He’s the quintessential director of the kinds of films people who never watch arthouse films think arthouse films are all like.
As such, The Turin Horse is practically the epitome of a parody of European arthouse films: it’s in black and white, the tone is overwhelming in its sombre dourness, there are peasants in peasanty clothing doing peasant things, the soundtrack is a repetitive, depressing four tone dirge, and what dialogue we hear (or read, since it’s subtitled, unless you’re Hungarian) is either trivial, makes no sense or is pretentious drivel and the point of it all is almost a complete mystery even to the most attentive and hopeful of viewers.
Within that, though, there’s possibly something powerful about the experience. You wouldn’t keep watching it if you were flicking through the channels and caught a few seconds of it on SBS or World Movies, because it’s the kind of flick you have to force yourself to watch. In the process of doing so, perhaps there’s something meaningful that comes out of it.
Note that I didn’t say that something meaningful definitely comes out of it because I have no idea whether it was a worthwhile way to spend two and a half hours or not. I love film, though, so it doesn’t seem like a waste to me. And this is the purest film experience for film wankers the world over that they could ever dream of.
dir: Nicholas Jarecki
With a title like that they're going to be turning away teenagers from cinemas in droves, whacking them with sticks and pepper spray-smeared tasers.
I mean, who doesn't get a little wet hearing the silky, seductive word 'arbitrage'? Say it to yourself with a sensuous lilt to your voice, like you're a phone sex worker or telemarketer. From Mumbai, south of the Melbourne where you are from, mister sir.
I like to think that this is the sequel to Pretty Woman, though they couldn't get Julia Roberts to reprise the least convincing role as a prostitute any woman has played in the history of women and movies. Thankfully, they got an actual actress to play the role this time, being Susan Sarandon. But Gere, Richard fucking Gere is the lead.
I have to admit to a certain bias here that colours my ability to appreciate such a film: I'm not much of a fan of Richard Gere, in fact, I find his squinty mole-like eyes and hammy performances gut-wrenchingly difficult to sit through. It's not fair to him, or you, dear reader, but it's more honest this way, more respectful of you. That way you can assess for yourself whether my opinion is based on what I thought of what might be a decent flick, or whether it's just that I can't stand a particular element of it, skewing my perceptions shamefully.
Richard Gere plays a titan of industry, a pillar of the community, just like in Pretty Woman. The names are different to prevent Gary Marshall from suing them, but you know he's playing the same character: A corporate raider who temporarily changed his ways because of the love of a hooker with a heart of gold, but who changed back to his regular ways once he got bored with her.
Either Julia Roberts' character has aged well to become Susan Sarandon, or she's aged badly to become Susan Sarandon's character, a society belle dame and philathropist. She's come up in the world, certainly.
As the flick starts, this superman hero akin to something out of an Ayn Rand novel is celebrating his sixtieth birthday in both the lap of luxury and within the bosom of his large family. Top of the world, ma. Everything is awesome and he is so, so loved, powerful and wonderful.
dir: Wes Anderson
Every couple of years we are graced with another Wes Anderson film, and those that hate him and all his works are gifted with the opportunity to rant again as to why they loathe him, and those who rave for him do the opposite. My relationship is somewhat more complex, in that I find myself liking some of his flicks and not others, but it never sits as simply as “I like your old stuff better than your new stuff.”
Moonrise Kingdom is his latest (well, duh), and I enjoyed it well enough. It’s of a piece. You know what to expect in every present and future Wes Anderson film if you’ve seen at least two of them, because they never vary in their meticulous look, in their affected acting and in their quirky awkwardness that we’re meant to find endearing.
That doesn’t mean they’re all equally good or equally bad. I guess if you like the underlying story and fussy aesthetics, it makes up for all the Andersonian fetish work you have to sit through in order to get to that ‘happy’ place.
This latest one is set in the mid 1960s, and is focussed on a love story between two twelve-year-olds who are often referred to by their peers, families and authority figures as ‘disturbed’. Sam (Jared Gilman) is a specky orphan who no-one can stand. He might be somewhere on the Asperger’s / autism spectrum, or he could just be an actor in a Wes Anderson film. It’s hard to tell the difference sometimes. He has met and fallen in love with Suzy (Kara Hayward), who hates her family and the label of being a difficult or problem child subject to rages. She might be somewhere on the psychotic spectrum or she might just be etc etc.
Sam is in the Khaki Scouts, where they have a camp that’s run like a fort, and where he is loathed by the rest of the troupe prior to and after his escape. Their fearless leader is a particularly feckless and ineffectual chap (Ed Norton), who seems to be quite depressed with his general incompetence in the face of life’s challenges, and in losing one of his charges.
There are a lot of depressed people in this flick, but that shouldn’t be surprising to anyone, because it’s a Wes Anderson flick. Suzy’s lawyer parents (Frances McDormand and Bill Murray) are depressed too, mostly because they can’t stand each other any more, but also because Suzy’s their daughter, and they feel trapped by their family. A police captain (Bruce Willis) also gets in on the act, searching for the two lovebirds once they run off to be together, who’s depressed because he can’t be with the one he loves to smoke cigarettes with.
dir: Steven Soderbergh
If you'd told me I was destined to watch and enjoy a film about male strippers in this here year of our Lord 2012, I would have scoffed and called you a liar to your face, despite your obvious track record as a fortune-teller and clairvoyant. If it was some other year, maybe 1997, maybe it might have been possible. But not now. Not in this bright, shining time of technological pinnacles and economic doom.
And yet stranger things have happened. It helps that it's directed by Soderbergh, who's been a consistently interesting director for decades (except when making those Ocean's 11-13 movies). And it also helps that they have a real life Chippendale in the lead role. Well, maybe not a Chippendale, but research shows that Channing Tatum was apparently the actual thing he portrays in this flick before he became an actor: a male stripper, stripping not to get through college but to get by until one of his actual dreams for financial security come true. He is surprisingly good in the role, and I say 'surprisingly' not because he's not a good match for the role but in spite of it.
Prior to this flick, I think, he's been regarded as a bit of a himbo, bit of a burly meathead with a still boyish face despite the abundance of steroids he's taken over the years. He also has a soft voice, incongruous compared with his appearance, that adds another layer to what he brings. The thing is, though, he's got a certain charisma to him. I've enjoyed his performances in films that I didn't enjoy, like A Guide to Recognising Your Saints, the Iraq War don't-send-me-back-again drama Stop-Loss and the Prohibition gangster era flick Public Enemies. All weak films in which he didn't exactly shine, but in which he did good work. And then of course in competent flicks, like the Jump Street remake, he showed that he's got more going on in his head and potentially in his future than just becoming another action lunkhead on the growing pile.
I don't know if Tatum being a former stripper adds a layer of verisimilitude to the proceedings, but it certainly doesn't hurt his chances. This flick tries to treat what the chaps do here seriously, though no-one sane involved in the production would pretend this is a cinema verite - documentary approach to the life. All I know is this makes male stripping look like the incongruous, awkward, hyper-masculine grind it probably is.
dir: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
This is a remarkable film, a very long film, in which very little happens. It's about something fairly important, in that three car loads of gentlemen for most of the film's length are driving around the bleak landscape of Central Anatolia for an important reason, but that reason seems to be out of proportion with the journey they endure.
In essence it becomes less about a murder investigation and more about the men involved, even though we get the barest amount of information about them. And then they drive on and on.
As the film opens, there are three men we observe behind a window, chatting about stuff and laughing, and then one of them gets up and looks out the window. This takes a fair amount of time.
The next we see, after the titles, is a barren landscape in fading light, as a bunch of cars drive across, looking for something. It will be a long time for us and them before they find anything. More so for us.
What follows is a very naturalistic, very mundane police procedural, but don't for a second confuse it with a CSI: Turkey. It's not a forensic investigation or even an investigation. These chaps know who committed the crime, and the guilty are there with them as they drive around in their cars. In fact, there's not a scintilla of mystery to the proceedings. There's just cold hard reality.
Can there be beauty in the mundane? We regard 'beauty' as being something almost rare, or extraordinary, and it truly can be. But we make the distinction between something of surface glossiness and something possessing depth, at least I hope we do. It would seem inelegant or even inappropriate to describe this flick as a beautiful film, because there's nothing obviously beautiful about the set up or the realisation. It's also a very painstakingly slow film. When people in the flick do anything, they do all of it. There aren't a bunch of establishing shots or montage-like edits getting us anywhere, ever. When they need to drive somewhere, they drive the whole time there, and we're with them the whole time. As the sun sets on this fairly grim part of the world, it takes a long time setting. Much is made of the natural light used for much of the flick, and it really does help in making you feel not as an omniscient observer, but as someone who's actually there, having to endure the passage of time, and the petty disagreements and obstacles along with the other characters.
As for those characters, well, they're a strange bunch of people. They're not David Lynch strange, or riddled with quirks and tics as in a Wes Anderson movie; it's just that they seem like they're fully realised but banal characters who live this life and endure all its mundanity for reasons we're never going to find out and that we don't need to know. And we should already know this stuff, since we've been working with them for ages already.
dir: Emilio Estevez
Of all the people in the world available to direct films, you would think or hope that one of them wouldn't have to be Emilio Estevez, mega superstar of St Elmo's Fire and Young Guns fame. Estevez, one guesses, is somewhat forced to direct movies now because he's not inexplicably sought after like his drug addled brother Charlie Sheen, or as talented as his father Martin Sheen.
What better combination could there be than Estevez directing and Martin starring? Well, I guess they could have had Charlie playing a role too, maybe in the role as the lead female.
The Way is a movie about a father (Sheen) making a long pilgrimage to honour his son, who dies while on that same pilgrimage. It's not as complicated as it sounds. The father is a stodgy opthamologist who lives alone and plays golf solely to cover the fact that he has nothing else going on in his life. The only remaining family he has since his wife's death is his son Daniel (Estevez), the last contact with whom occurred when father was dropping son off at the airport. Son was all like "Dad, you should be totally out there living life and travelling and such" and the father is like "Buckle down, grow up, get a job you hate, work it for forty years, because that's what people do."
It's not an original dynamic, but in a flick like this, considering that in all sorts of stories like this, one of them has to die. They have to die after harsh words like that because then one of them can be left behind lamenting the fact that their last words to their loved one was something like "Get the shit out of your ears, dickhead, and get a job ya bum."
That's when you can really feel guilty. The son was off somewhere, but the dad didn't care. The son's constant travel and carefree ways brings nothing but misery to the father, but he's not going to have to worry about that anymore.
For reasons never explained, nor did they need to be, Daniel was off on a fairly well known pilgrimage that starts in France and ends in Spain that takes months to complete on foot. Well known to other people, I guess. I mean, I know I've done the pilgrimage at least a dozen times for sure, but perhaps the 'famous' Camino de Santiago de Compostela isn't that well known to others. It's also known as The Way of St James, hence the title. But maybe, just maybe, The Way also refers to "what is the best way to live?" or, "what is the best way to grieve for someone you loved but didn't like that much?"
dir: John Madden
Movies for oldies. Why not? Many of them have oodles of disposable income, and they’re as keen about being pandered to at the cinema as much as anyone else is. Plus, cinemas like my local arthouse Cinema Nova needs something to play on Mondays to make the oldies queue up like they’re offering free flu shots.
This niche is a pleasant enough niche, smelling as it does of casseroles, Vicks Vaporub and unwashed dishes, and it often results in some very excellent films, not all of them being Merchant Ivory productions. Sure, they don’t want to startle the old folks with anything even mildly shocking, so these flicks tend to be fairly safe and pedestrian affairs, but that doesn’t mean they are lacking in beauty.
On some levels I was watching this thinking “I should hate this and everything it stands for”, but the actors involved are too good, and the episodic, sometimes haphazard nature of the narrative are woven together well enough to overcome the hokeyness of some of the material.
A random collection of British oldies somehow either choose or are compelled to end up at a rundown hotel in Jaipur, India. Jaipur is also known as the Pink City, not that that illuminates anything for the dear reader. The idea, from the perspective of the superannuated, is that however much or little money life has left them with, they should be able to run our the clock in semi-luxury without having to worry about ending up in one of those state-run old folk’s homes where they bathe people in petrol to keep the leprosy at bay.
When they arrive, coincidentally at the same time, they are shocked, SHOCKED to discover that the place is nowhere near as opulent as the internet led them to believe. Naughty internet for telling porky pies.
The motley crew of oldies includes an unrepentant racist (Dame Maggie Smith) in town for a hip replacement operation, a widow who’s never really ‘lived’ (Dame Judi Dench), a retired judge who longs for a lost love (Dame Tom Wilkinson), a crusty old womaniser (Dame Ronald Pickup), and two Civil Service retirees who clearly hate each other and hate all of life because the internet made them poor (Dame Bill Nighy and Dame Penelope Wilton). There are probably some other people, but really, do they matter compared to that list of great dames?
dir: Asghar Farhadi
Simin (Leila Hatami) and Nader (Peyman Moaadi) are seeking a separation, a divorce, in other words. They plead their respective cases to the judge. The judge, in this case, is the camera. For five minutes they argue at each other through the ‘judge’, who keeps admonishing them for whatever they are trying or not trying to do.
They make their plaintive statements, in Nader’s case fairly passive-aggressive statements, to us, pleading for us to understand which one is in the right. The thing is, though, they are trying to use the law to get what they want: Simin doesn’t really want a divorce, she wants the whole family to leave Iran, so she wants custody of their daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi), to make Nader come with them to places unknown, but far away from here.
The judge’s voice says, with hidden menace, “What’s wrong with living here?” The question is left unanswered, because this is the place where answering honestly can fuck up far more than just your day. Especially for Iranian women.
This is Iran, and I can’t imagine the scenario in which a court grants a woman anything there, including an uncontested divorce. Nader won’t let go of Termeh, because he knows his wife will never leave Iran as long as Termeh stays with him. And Simin might as well be talking to statues, regardless of her determination, regardless of how right or wrong she may be.
This all sounds like too much drama, but it’s pitched at just the right human level. It’s not melodramatic or over the top, it’s not Kramer Vs Kramer Persian style mixed with Nineteen-Eighty-Four: it’s people with real emotions dealing with the bizarre Iranian legal system to get what they think they deserve.
But that’s the problem: to hope for satisfaction from such a legal system, any legal system, but especially this one, is to hope in vain. It’s not just the vicissitudes of the legal system at fault, but the aspects of people’s personalities and their actions that render people both right and wrong at the best and worst of times.
It’s impossible for those of us not living in Iran, and not that conversant with all the various complexities therein, to watch a flick like this without seeing it as an indictment of the oppressive regime they live under. Every Iranian flick, every flick that mentions Iran is unavoidably seen through that lens. It’s also the kind of place that jails and beats its directors and their families, as director Jafar Panahi found out several months ago, the poor bastard.
I try to sarcastically derive all my knowledge of people, political systems and places from movies, so all I know of Iran comes from films like the ones made by Jafar Panahi, Abbas Kiarostami, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, and the graphic novels (and movie Persepolis) of Marjane Satrapi. It’s a limited perspective in some ways, because it means the sum and total of my impressions are derived from the views of upper-middle-class creative types with the skills and the contacts to dance the razor’s edge between creating art and pissing off the mullahs that would see them jailed and unemployed for the next twenty years.
In other words, if you don’t know from some source just how rich Iranian history is, and how fucked up Iranian society has been since the Revolution, you’re not listening hard enough, and elements of a film like A Separation will look like life on some alternate reality Earth.
dir: Sean Durkin
A strange film. A strange, awkward film about a strange, damaged girl called Martha (Elizabeth Olsen). Well, her name is usually Martha, and then someone else anoints her as a Marcy May, and then later on, when asked her name on the phone, she calls herself Marlene, just like all the woman in her cult when they’re on the phone.
There’s your explanation of the title, if that’s what was perplexing you. It’s also the only way to remember the title itself. For months people would refer to the film or ask me if I’d seen it, and we’d both be flustering or dribbling “you seen that Marley uh Macy Grey, uh Mandlebrot movie yet?” in the struggle for a title.
I’m not sure if it’s a character study, or if it’s just an uncomfortable look at a mildly insane woman, but what it ends up being is a tedious drag. I know it’s meant to be a great film, and that it garnered a lot of praise last year for the central performance and for the creepy and oppressive atmosphere it generates, but I really, in the wash up, don’t see what the fuss was about. I'm not trying to be oppositional just for the sake of it, nor am I disliking it just because critics wanked over it.
Olsen has a very expressive face, though, for my money, she’s more reminiscent of Maggie Gyllenhaal than her evil twin sisters Mary-Kate and Ashley. Her performance is strong at times, and weak at others. I wasn’t sure if it was the characterisation or the character that was the most inconsistent, but I found her compelling only rarely. Quite often, the character and the actress annoyed me, and not in a way that made me sympathetic to the portrayal or the film. If readers feel that I'm being unfair, I'm all ears (or eyes, as the case would be on the internets), and I am looking forward to someone putting forward the case that it's actually great, for this and this and this reason. Good luck, by the way.
dir: Steve McQueen
I understand shame. Believe me, I have a deep appreciation of shame, both the concept and the feeling, the horrible feeling, of shame.
I don’t think I really understood Shame.
The main reason is this: I don’t understand what it was trying to say. I think I understood what it said, in the way that if someone says to me “my cat’s breath smells like cat food”, I understand the individual words and the overall sentence. If the statement was made to me when I was standing at a shop counter asking for a pack of smokes, though, you can understand my lack of understanding from the context.
Michael Fassbender is a tremendous actor, and I’ll happily watch him in anything he does. All I did in this flick was watch him. He is this entire film, and he’s definitely a major presence, in or out of this flick, in or out of the nude. I still didn’t get what he was doing here, though, or why.
Let me be blunt: his behaviour in this flick, except for the visit to a certain type of club towards the end, is what most guys are like, or at least most guys wish they were like. You might think I'm exaggerating, but I'm sorry to say, ladies, that this is what men are like all day every day. They're pigs, and you only have the barest appreciation for how truly piggish most of us are. His character here is an alpha male who, for the purposes of this flick, is meant to be some kind of sex addict. That's meant to be the key: this is supposed to be a gruelling trawl through the dark world of sex addiction.
I find this a bit perplexing, because most of the guys on this planet do the same when they have the time, money, looks, confidence and inclination. In fact, let me phrase it more concisely: this is what guys who probably aren't defined as sex addicts act like, every fucking day of their delightfully full lives.
I'm not talking from personal experience, lest you think, dear reader, that I am raising myself to the lofty or lowly heights of gods amongst men like Michael Fassbender or the characters he plays. I am so far from being an alpha male that I don't think using the designation of "omega" would even cover it. But I do, unfortunately, know plenty about the male mind, more than any human should ever want to know, to the point where I despair for our entire species sometimes.
See, men live in this reality, which is a cold, grey, grim concrete world with brief glimmers and sparkles of joy and meaning. But part of the male mind, or at least around six inches of it, permanently resides in that porno fantasy land where sex is always potentially in the offing, always just around the corner, and is always a possibility no matter how unlikely or sexless the circumstances.
dir: Jason Reitman
Charlize Theron was terrifying in Monster, where she played serial killer Aileen Wuornos all those years ago, snagging an Oscar for her performance.
There are scenes in Young Adult where she’s even more horrifying.
She does this thing with her eyes where she leeches them of all human sentiment or human feeling. They transform into the eyes of some infinitely old and infinitely cold alien who observes our species with nothing but contempt.
And then she just acts like a self-centred brat who’s never grown up from being the high school mean/popular girl, who is doomed to be nothing but this for the rest of her life.
When Mavis (Charlize Theron) receives a group e-mail announcing the birth of her married, high-school boyfriend’s daughter, who has been out of her life for decades, she somehow twists this to mean that now is the time for her to return to her shitty home town to rescue him from a life of domesticity and human feeling.
She is a piece of work, a true piece of work. Her alcoholism is only one of her many estimable qualities. When she piles in to her car in order to drive back home to Mercury, Minnesota, with miniature dog in tow, she puts in a tape that dates back to her glory days, to the halcyon, to the peak of existence.
That tape, a mixtape, is just one of the many testaments to a certain age, here. What kids make mixtapes these days? I would hazard a guess that there’s possibly only about five people constructing even ‘mixtape’ CDs worldwide, and they’re probably just perverts.
What’s the contemporary equivalent? Sending a text message with a playlist that has links to the torrentz where some songs could be downloaded? Cram that up your iPod’s nethers and smoke to it, freaks and groovers.
Mavis plays the same song again and again. Actually, not even the entire song. She keeps repeating the intro mostly, again and again, just to hear the words “She wears denim wherever she goes / says she’s gonna get some records by The Status Quo oh yeah / Oh Yeah.”
Oh, yes indeed, it’s a great song from a great album, being The Concept from Bandwagonesque by Teenage Fanclub. It’s meant to date not the film but the protagonist. The strangest thing, for me at least, is that it perfectly situated me in a time and place so I could understand the exact era these halcyon days of hers were meant to be from: the early 90s. If it had been a Nirvana song, that would have been too broad, and too on the nose, too easy. But this song narrowed it down even more.
It’s the way that she keeps playing the first bit of the song that’s even more telling, or possibly even more telling. She can’t even let the rest of the song play, or the tape itself. As if that wasn’t subtle enough, the song plays a key part later on as well.