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Woman in Gold

Woman in Gold

Some things are worth fighting for, especially when they're
worth hundreds of millions of dollars

dir: Simon Curtis

2015

This is not a colour afflicted sequel to either The Woman in Black horror flicks or The Woman in White, the classic Wilkie Collins pot boiler. Or The Woman in Red, the classic 80s flick with Gene Wilder and Kelly Le Brock. Rawr! The sexual chemistry just burned up the screen, it did.

It’s something far more laden with importance and weighty significance. It’s based on a true story, in some ways an incredibly true story, and its very title is an affront and a lingering insult to the people affected/afflicted by the Nazis.

Austria. Vienna. In some ways this flick and a lot of ink spilled in the last half century have argued about the complicated relationship people have with that great nation and city. It spawned great art and architecture. It spawned a dictator too, who tried to consume all of Europe with his Jew-hating madness, which in turn consumed much of the rest of the world, too.

Unfortunately for me, and for one of the protagonists here, one can’t look at the clean lines and fascist architecture of the place even now without seeing the horror of back then. This flick, more than anything else, is about trying to make right something that under no circumstances can be made right.

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While We're Young

While We're Young

Taking ayahuasca is not something people in their 40s should be doing.
You're meant to be arguing about tax returns and negative gearing and
prostate examinations! Also, private schools: good idea or great idea?

dir: Noah Baumbach

2015

I’ve barely recovered from the last time I watched a Noah Baumbach film. You could almost describe my symptoms as being “post-Baumbach stress disorder” after having endured Greenberg. I know that wasn’t his next to most recent flick (that being Frances Ha), but I’m still trying to reconcile the deeply visceral and hateful reaction I had to that earlier flick.

I was wary to enter into the lion’s den again. One shouldn’t return to one’s abusers. It’s not healthy. It reeks of co-dependence and unhealthy relationships. If a person abuses you, physically or mentally, there are no good reasons to spend time with them ever again. They don’t respect you, the way Baumbach seems to have no respect for his audiences, sometimes. That’s when you start the exceedingly complicated process of extracting yourself, which can take months, years even.

But hey, if you’re a masochist or a glutton for punishment, let the good times roll!

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The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Uplifting! Uproarious! Superannuated! Now I need a lie down.

dir: John Madden

2015

Why wouldn’t you?

Why wouldn’t you make a sequel to such a successful movie? I mean, every white middle class Anglo-Saxon over the age of 65 in Britain and Australia was obligated by law to go and see the first one or risk having their Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and pensioner cards ripped up in front of them, so why not?

Well, call me the querulous voice of pedantic temperance: this flick really has no reason to exist, like most sequels. Was there anything desperately necessary for the makers or the characters to do or say?

No, not really. But many of these actors, being national treasures, deserve every opportunity to continue sitting there in front of a camera complaining about the pain in their hips or knees. And I begrudge them nothing. As long as someone gets them a nice cup of tea and puts a blanket over their knees.

With many of these elders, I could literally sit there watching them talk about tea or textile content percentages and consider it time well spent. They’ve earned it. Dame Judi Dench and Dame Maggie Smith are Dames, for crying out loud. That’s not an exaggeration or a term of endearment. They’re literally Dames! As in knighted by the goddamn queen. If anyone deserves to coast along and not do much and still be thought of as wonderful, it’s them.

So, yeah, I’m always glad to spend time with them. Many of the other people in this film? Meh…

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Welcome to Me

Welcome to Me

This image doesn't convey at all just how weird this flick is and just
how awful she can be. Hiding your awfulness behind sunglasses is
an old, old trick

dir: Shira Piven

2014

Well. That happened.

This is one of those flicks where you can safely say if Kristen Wiig wasn’t in it, the flick would never have been made. And had it never been made, would the world have been any better or worse off?

Welcome to Me is a mildly interesting flick, but not an entirely satisfying one. It’s hard to imagine a more satisfying version of this same story, because I’m not sure such a thing would really be possible.

It has, at its core, a main character who is transcendentally kind of awful. Alice Kleig (Kristen Wiig) maybe doesn’t mean to be, but she is struggling with, at the very least, borderline personality disorder, according to her long-suffering therapist (Tim Robbins).

She has one friend, Gina (Linda Cardellini), a gay ex-husband (Alan Tudyk) who inexplicably still dotes on her, and a completely distorted sense of the world and her place in it.

We know right off the bat that her own personal psychiatric history shapes the majority of her interactions with the world, or at least her sense of it, but we are also giving the clear impression that television is responsible as well.

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The Skeleton Twins

Skeleton Twins

Woah, wait, it's not THAT kind of film about siblings. This ain't
no Flowers in the Attic type stuff

dir: Craig Johnson

2014

This is an odd film, but an enjoyable one, in that I enjoyed it, and it was odd. If the mantra has long been than comedians in dramatic roles is a surer bet than dramatic actors in comedic roles, then the makers here are doubling down by having both Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader as the lead siblings in this drama.

The problem, if it is a problem, is that because of their pedigree as Saturday Night Live alums, everything they do we naturally assume is being done for comedic effect. That includes even in serious, dramatic moments. I recall reading an interview with Wiig where she spoke of being at a screening, and being frustrated that people were laughing at parts of the movie where she wasn’t going for laughs and the script wasn’t aiming for them either.

Well, boo bloody hoo. Rarely can we exactly control what other people get from what we do. Plus it’s her own fault for being so funny for so long.

The Skeleton Twins is a pretty serious film. Two siblings deal with the trauma of their troubled adolescence, in terrible ways, before reconnecting after ten years of estrangement.

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Faults

Faults

The Leader is good, The Leader is great, we surrender
our will as of this date!

dir: Riley Stearns

2014

There are probably a bunch of faults in Faults. You wouldn’t really put those faults down to the budget, because this flick has none. I have rarely if ever seen a movie with recognisable actors in it with as much of a budget absence as this.

Let me put it this way, in my pockets I have more money than was perhaps spent on any aspect of the making of or distribution of this movie.

It shouldn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. Constraints often force film makers to come up with intriguing solutions. It’s just that the budget is so, so tiny that you have to figure the makers made it out of a deep love of the subject matter.

Or they just really, really love cults.

I’ve never been, even as a child, prone at all to the temptations of subsuming myself into any group’s loving embrace, whether it be religious, philosophical, political or otherwise. I just don’t have that belonging feeling. I’m sure the people that do get sucked into these entities probably believed likewise about themselves. I’m sure there’s a few Scientologists who still think they made the right decision to sign on for a billion years of service, and that their decision made perfect sense at the time and even to this day.

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Still Alice

Still Alice

To me the look on her face says "If I don't get the Oscar
for this, someone's going to get stabbed."

dir: Richard Glatzer & Wash Westmoreland

2014

Still Alice is quite a sad film. I’m sure that’s not going to be a surprise to anyone that’s heard even a little bit about what it’s about. But it is truly sad.

All the same, this is not the kind of manipulative drivel that one usually associates with these kinds of dramas. It’s also not about the nobility of suffering, or about a beautiful woman getting some disease and expiring in the most delightfully photogenic manner.

Julianne Moore has rightly been nominated for this performance, but I’m not sure that she’s necessarily going to win. Her achievement in this role is often what she chooses not to do more so than what she actually does. There is a minimum of hysterics or melodramatics in the flick, which keeps it inline with the story as it is being told.

But at least she's subtle about it.

Alice (Moore) is delivering a lecture on linguistics. She pauses, trying to recall a word that is eluding her, and then it comes to her, and she moves on.

This is only the first step down a very long road.

Define ‘irony’. Irony is a professor of linguistics, a person whose field of study is the human brain’s ability to soak up language and the structures of the brain devoted to communication, and the idea of how words form a person’s concept of their own identity, and then have her lose it all as we watch.

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Whiplash

Whiplash

It ain't worth it, people, this jazz stuff will just mess you up

dir: Damien Chazelle

2014

Well, whatever the template is in a flick like St Vincent, Whiplash would seem to be the absolute opposite.

This is not, in any way, a flick where an older curmudgeon is brought out of his shell by a younger person who teaches him to reconnect with his humanity and people and Russian prostitutes.

Oh good gods, no.

Whiplash is a superb film. I know, I’m a bit late getting to the table on this one, since it’s been nominated for stuff, and it made many reviewers’ 2014 Best of listicles. It’s up for Best Picture in a couple of weeks. J.K. Simmons has been nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Praising it now seems like throwing confetti after the limo has left the church.

It being superb doesn’t always make it easy to watch. It is tense, and energised, and frightening, in a lot of scenes. It is harrowing to watch what the main character Andrew (Miles Teller) endures for his art. It is disturbing to consider the points the film makes about sacrifice, about needing to suffer to become “great”, and about how, sometimes, it feels like the flick is endorsing the abuse we witness.

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St Vincent

St Vincent

I can't believe they didn't use a single song from the actual
St Vincent (Annie Clark) in this flick. Totally wasted opportunity.

dir: Theodore Melfi

2014

Old grumpy curmudgeons becoming less so (grumpy and curmudgeonly, not the old bit, since there’s no cure for that) over the course of a flick is a genre in and of itself. There’s this inherent belief, ably supported by movies, that even the most misanthropic dullard can be brought out of themselves by the attention and love of a much younger person.

It’s a template as old as movies themselves. The first movie ever was a home movie of a crotchety Thomas Edison screaming at people to get off his lawn at Menlo Park, until some filthy urchin teaches him to love again.

And that was 100 years ago. There have been exactly 10,000 versions of this theme in the interim. They do it in every country, in every language. I’ve probably seen five versions of this in the last month alone.

When it’s done well, it’s as good as Pixar’s Up, or About A Boy, that one with Hugh Grant and Nicholas Hoult, a film I still have a lot of time for. When it’s bad, it’s creepy, or unearned, or just generally uncomfortable. Like As Good As It Gets, 90 per cent of Clint Eastwood’s recent movies, or many, many, many other versions of the theme.

Because it’s such a formula, it doesn’t really hold any surprises for us. What it does hold is ample opportunities for actors of a certain age to desperately grasp one last time for that Oscar that’s eluded them thus far.

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Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Birdman

You seem to have something stuck to your head.
Want me to, uh, get it for you?

dir: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

2014

This film is totally fucking nuts!

And that’s not a bad thing at all.

In fact it’s quite enjoyable, visually confronting, artfully constructed and pretty well acted by almost everyone involved. There is a lot of yelling, a lot of virtuoso camerawork, and a lot of people struggling for credibility.

It’s not unique in cinema to do this, but it’s very hard to watch this and not think that there are fourth wall breaking – meta elements in the flick, considering that Michael Keaton is playing a character called Riggan Thompson whose claim to fame is that he starred as the superhero in some flick called Birdman decades ago.

I hope that almost everyone knows that Keaton, who up until then had been considered a pretty successful comedic actor, also played a little known superhero called Batman in a couple of movies with Tim Burton.

No-one points out, of course, that they were pretty shitty movies. Well, the first one was, maybe the second one was okay.

Of course, Keaton hasn’t exactly been in the wilderness since then, having been in a stack of flicks. If there are autobiographical similarities between Keaton the actor and Thompson the character, perhaps they’re just coincidental.

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