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The Way Way Back

The Way Way Back

Would you buy a used Coming-Of-Age story
from this man?

dir: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash

Coming of age stories… what would cinema be without them? It’d all be giant robots and zombies and werewolves and cars smashing all over the place, hopefully all in the same movie.

Their virtue is that they’re meant to be universally relatable, both to troubled teens and their dull, enervated parents who very faintly remember what it was like to be a troubled teen. It’s a way of reliving highly charged times, and vicariously, in some cases, getting it right this time around.

The Way Way Back, it’s pretty obvious, was initially written to be set in the 1980s. It had to have been considering the sheer abundance of 80s references and marginalia. However, someone must have decided that you could just set it contemporarily, not have people wandering around with iPhones and tight pants slightly drooping down at the crotch, and you could have the best of both worlds, as dubious a concept as that might be.

The lead character is Duncan (Liam James), a shrinking violet if ever a violet shrunk. He has good cause. His parents have divorced recently, which is bad enough, but her new partner, Trent (Steve Carrell) is the classic kind of arsehole these stories invariably require. Everyone needs obstacles to overcome, and quite often those obstacles are the people that treat you like shit.

Rating:

Stoker

Stoker

Mothers and their daughters, mirrors into each other's
dysfunction

dir: Park Chan-wook

There are families, there are dysfunctional families, and then there is the Stoker family. I went into this knowing next to nothing about it other than it was the English-language debut of the great Korean director Park Chan-wook, perhaps best known for Oldboy and Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, two outstanding and grim examples of the best South Korean cinema has to offer.

But, he’s also the director of films I’ve liked a lot less, mostly because I was expecting something significantly different from what he intended to show us, the fools in the audience, and that can affect how you appreciate something.

This is a very dark and macabre film. Beautiful, no doubt, beautifully constructed and composed, as are all his films, but it's cold, detached, at a remove, like some of its main characters, uninterested in having its audience care about whatever happens to most of the characters in the film.

India Stoker (Australia's Own Mia Wasikowska) is an odd girl, something of a goth, obsessed with death and clearly not quite right in the head. She dresses like a creepy girl of an earlier era, in fact she dresses like Wednesday Addams from The Addams Family. The poor girl, apart from clearly being somewhat disturbed even before the film starts, loses her beloved father on her 18th birthday, upon which she discovers a great many things about her family that she never knew about.

Rating:

Mud

Mud

He ain't no Mudhoney, that's for sure

dir: Jeff Nichols

Mud continues a fairly stellar run for an actor people wrote off as a vacant himbo jock a long time ago. 'People' being me. And yet somehow, inexplicably, the Renaissance of Mathew McConaughey continues.

But it's not even his film. Mud firmly belongs to one of the two boys who are the film's leads, not to the character of the title. It's a coming-of-age story for a boy called Ellis, a boy living a hard scrabble life on the banks of the Mississippi River, amongst and amidst a whole bunch of riverbillies or swampbillies, whatever the right term is. And they all earn our sympathies, every one of them. Every single goddamn one of them.

Ellis is the one going through the grinding agony of finding out that life is one crushing, disillusioning disappointment and letdown after another. And there's some joy, beauty and hope along the way.

It has nothing to do with Winter's Bone, another stellar flick about a young kid trying to get by in an impoverished and shitty world, but it reminded me of it a bit. It has another strong performance by a teenager in a complicated role.

Rating:

The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby

The less-than-Great Gatsby: at least the flick has pretty people in it

dir: Baz Luhrmann

Instincts came to the fore, hackles rose up unbidden just thinking about it. Issues filled my head with noise. No porter had to carry my baggage into this cinematic experience because I was happy to do so myself, choosing without a gun to my head, to voluntarily watch another Baz Luhrmann film.

Yet it seduced me all the same. For about an hour. Then it discarded me, ashamed and disillusioned, by the side of the road, well before it ended. Really, looking back, I should have known this would happen. It couldn’t have gone any other way.

After the crime against humanity that was Australia (not the formation of the country, but the execrable movie Luhrmann birthed in unholy fashion upon a suspecting world), I really didn’t think Baz had anything left to say that I wanted to hear. The prospect of seeing his version of the alleged Greatest of the Great American Novels brought to the screen was too tantalising a trainwreck to pass on, all the same.

Rating:

Hello, I Must Be Going

Hello I Must Be Going

These posters explain nothing about what these films are about

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.

Rating:

Upstream Color

Upstream Color

It's important to feel safe

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.

Rating:

Promised Land

Promised Land

What's over there? Is it coming this way?

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."

Rating:

Ginger and Rosa

Ginger and Rosa

The key is: don't turn out like Linsday Lohan or
Kristen Stewart, girls

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.

Rating:

Amour

Amour

Maybe if I loved you just a little bit more,
then everything would be okay

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.

Rating:

Flight

Flight

I don't care what anyone says, you're a goddamn hero
and a role model to us all

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!

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