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Nature is cruel. Mothers are great. Lamb is nice too,
slow cooked at least.

dir: Valdimar Jóhannsson


Hmm. Well. This was a film. That I watched. Recently.

You can’t say you’ve seen many Icelandic films. Even if you watch more films than I do, and it’s unlikely, and also unless you’re Icelandic (Hi Björk, góðan daginn), you can’t really say you’ve seen that many either. I can think of tons of movies that have scenery shot in Iceland, because it’s an incredible looking place, perfect for movies as diverse as The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Clint Eastwood’s two-for-one deal of Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima, that used the black rock beaches of Iceland to stand in for the Japanese island of the title.

But you wouldn’t call them Icelandic films, would you? A film from a place set in that place tells us something about the place beyond just the scenery. A film set in Iceland, on a farm, with a sad couple mourning the loss of a child; you’d hope such a set up tells us something, or at least the way it plays out.

In truth the main thing that drew me to this flick, called Lamb, was that one of the best flicks I saw this year was called Pig, and so if I kept things simple, and just watched movies with one word animal titles, I couldn’t go wrong.

Dumb strategy. Lamb is a lot, but it’s nothing like Pig, though they both have their merits.

As far as I know Icelandic is one of the hardest languages for a non-Icelandic person to learn. Imagine my surprise when I saw Swedish superstar Noomi Rapace as one of the two main leads here. Does she know Icelandic? No idea. No-one really speaks for more than a few words ever, at a time. “Check the barn.” “Okay.” Although she did move to Iceland as a child and grew up there, so it’s probably likely she’s all over the language.

She plays Maria, one half of the farming couple that have heaps of sheep, and some fields to plow with their tractor. At first, I thought the characters were just stoic Icelandic types: grim people matching the awe-inspiring but grim landscape.

But there is an underlying sadness there, that isn’t underlined by having the characters actually, you know, talk about things. Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason) goes about his tasks all robot-like, but at one point behind the wheel of the tractor, starts sobbing.


Last Night in Soho

Last Night Soho

It's almost like they're two sides of the same exploited coin

dir: Edgar Wright


Last Night in Soho is not the kind of flick you’d expect from this director. He’s very clever, very erudite, has a deep, deep knowledge of cinema, and loves to put everything together in a fashion so fussy even Wes Anderson is like: “just chill out, occasionally, dude.”

It’s also the first of his flicks that isn’t totally boy and nerd centric. As much as I like his so-called Cornetto trilogy of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End, and his other stuff, and his other genre exercises like Baby Driver, he has a certain mode, and he tends to stick to it.

This is nothing like those other flicks, though it’s still a genre exercise. It’s set contemporarily, but a lot of the “action” happens in the early swinging 60s in London, of all places. Ellie (Thomasin McKenzie) is a young woman just moved to the city from Cornwall wanting to pursue her dream of being a fashion designer. Though she gets into a design college, what she was too naïve to realise is that some, if not many of the people who would go to fashion design college would be vapid and poisonous fucks like Jocasta (Synnove Karlsen), who goes out of her way to make Ellie’s life a living hell for no discernible reason.

I found all the dumb, pointlessly cruel shit Jocasta does in this first bit to Ellie way, way more triggering and irritating that anything that happens in the rest of the flick. And let me tell you, the rest of the flick is about the horrible exploitation of women by men, and a whole bunch of murders. So many murders.

Ellie is sensitive, and I don’t mean that she doesn’t taken constructive criticism kindly or has a fragile sense of self, I mean she seems to be attuned to the spirit world or something similar. Does she see ghosts? I’m… not entirely sure.

When she is drawn to a particular flat in Soho, her nightly routine becomes one of being transported, not through a wardrobe to a snowy wonderland, but to the 1960s, and to the adventures of Sandy (Anya Taylor-Joy). It’s not entirely clear whether Ellie “becomes” Sandy, or whether they’re both somehow there together. There are times when their dual consciousness seems to be mirrored, as in, literally mirrors are used to show that they’re somehow both “there”. Sometimes Sandy seems to sense Ellie, and sometimes Ellie almost gets Sandy’s attention.


John and the Hole

John & the Hole

Maybe we should all just stay in the hole a bit longer

dir: Pascual Sisto


John and the Hole is quite a strange movie.

I like strange. Strange is good. Strange is sustaining for me, the way other people need hydration, or painkillers, or holidays. Strange, for me, resets the pathways in my mind, forces me to drift away from the well-trodden ways my mind tends to think, at least when it comes to art and movies.

When I think about this film, I am left with profound, unanswerable questions. It's not questions like whether what we saw was “real” within the context of the movie, or what parts were real, what parts imagined, or story within a story – type storytelling.

The question I can’t figure out is why at least two of these actors agreed to be in this movie.

Did they not read the script beforehand?

Jennifer Ehle will probably always best be known for playing Lizzie Bennett in the series of Pride and Prejudice alongside Colin Firth as Darcy. I know it was decades ago, but if people joke about Firth’s Darcy decades after the fact, then it’s a positive for her too. She’s been in a stack of other movies, even a psychological horror flick called Saint Maud I saw earlier this year, but rarely does she get to attack roles which resonate with the movie-going public. This role is unlikely to change that perception.

Michael C. Hall is probably best known for playing the serial killer lead of the Dexter tv series, but I prefer to remember him as David Fisher from Six Feet Under, a show I still treasure in my heart of hearts. I can only imagine that he lost a bet or has serious gambling debts to have stayed and completed his part of this movie.

I mention these portions of their résumés because for 90 per cent of this movie, which could mean that for 90 per cent of the time that this flick was being shot over the course of 23 days somewhere in rural Massachusetts, Ehle and Hall are down in a hole wearing dirty clothes with mud smeared all over their faces. Or on / in a set made to look as such for all that time.

They’re not even really main characters. The two main characters are the John of the title (Charlie Shotwell), and the Hole itself, near where the characters live.

John is an odd kid. Though nothing in the story implies as such, he could be some kind of alien-cuckoo changeling, replaced at birth, unsuited to and baffled by our human ways.

This is not, just for some reassurance, a story about a deeply disturbed child who goes on to murder a bunch of people. We Don’t Need to Talk About Kevin or John, at least not yet. But there is something deeply weird about this kid, and we get to spend about 100 minutes watching him do weird thing after weird thing, and I’m not sure there was much point to it.

John seems to be baffled by everything, but at least he makes choices. He seems highly intelligent and determined, but he knows little about how the world actually works. The world of adults seems especially alien to him, but he decides that he wants to find out what it would be like, despite being only 13.


Werewolves Within

Werewolves Within

Rarely have I wanted every character to die in a movie

dir: Josh Ruben


Werewolves Within. Is a film. That exists. And I watched it. But I am not proud.

It stars the delightful Sam Richardson who is just about the nicest sonofabitch you’ve ever seen in any medium. His guiding light in life seems to be Mr Rogers, with all the niceness and tweeness that conveys.

He plays a forest ranger or something similar, who moves to a town called Beaverfield that seems to only have 11 other people in it. Something mysterious seems to be going on in the town which will force all or most of them into the confines of a hotel, where maybe they’ll be picked off one by one?

I think, despite the werewolf theme and horror elements it was intended to be a snappy and light kind of comedy with a smidge of social commentary? I don’t know if that’s the case because I didn’t really find any of it that funny, like not even smile funny.

Problems with my approach: I saw it on my own; I saw it stone cold sober; I was already in something of an impatient mood and kept wanting to turn it off or watch something else or compulsively check my phone. And that’s despite the fact that I thought most of the people here are great performers who’ve delighted me in other stuff.

As characters start to die, I found I didn’t really care, because it was impossible to care about any of them. One character is always getting handsy with the ladies around who aren’t his wife, and of course we would want him to die, but when his handsy hand gets ripped off I felt kinda bored.

What it really feels like is a premise without a great idea on how to stretch things out? It feels really belaboured, like, pointlessly meandering all over the place, and almost winking at us with its arbitrary pointlessness. And that would be okay if it was fun along the way.

As in, at one point all the remaining people decide they need to stick together in the hotel. So they do so. Until they decide, well actually, let’s all just fuck off to our own homes, and then they do so. And you’re like “the fuck didn’t you do that half an hour ago?”




It's like something unpleasant, only not enjoyable either

dir: Lorcan Finnegan


Vivarium is an unpleasant and disturbing movie with little point that I could discern. I’m not sure if it was intended as satire, or a cautionary tale, but in the end, it really didn’t feel like it justified its own existence.

It’s not painful to watch or actively stupid. Neither is it offputting or horrific enough to have that going for it. It feels like a Black Mirror episode which forgot to have a vicious punchline that illuminates just how terrible people are. All it illuminates is that if there was some mysterious creature that looked vaguely human but wasn’t, that could kidnap people and put them somewhere they couldn’t escape from, it would be bad.

If it’s point is that something like what happens to the two protagonists here would be terrible to endure, well, derr fred, no doubt. Most stories usually need something more than that. Chopping my toe off with an axe would be bad, but I don’t think I should get to make a film about it (though Zuckerberg / Eisenberg is welcome to play my big toe any time).

A young couple (Imogen Poots and everyone’s favourite Zuckerberg Jesse Eisenberg) are looking for a place to live. She’s a primary teacher, he’s a, I dunno, groundskeeper Willy or something. It’s not clear where they are, but it’s not going to matter anyway. They wander into a storefront that we assume was a real estate agent or something. A really creepy looking guy called Martin promises them that the place they’re looking for is in a planned community called Yonder.

When they travel to Yonder, they find a place of thousands of identical houses. There is no one else around. Martin shows them No. 9, and literally disappears. Gemma and Tom try to drive away and keep turning up at 9. Whatever they do, they can’t leave.

The next night Tom burns the house down. The house reappears, and a box, also. There is a baby in the box. On the box is printed “Raise the child and you shall be released”.

O-kay. So they’re trapped in suburbia, with a child they don’t want, and for invisible reasons they can’t leave.

Does that even qualify as satire?


Knives Out

Knives Out

Look at these rich arseholes. Who doesn't deserve to be stabbed?

dir: Rian Johnson


Rian Johnson, as a writer and director, and probably in playing competitive boardgames and in the bedroom, is too clever for his own good. I acknowledge that it’s a meaningless phrase. I probably just mean he’s a smartarse.

Sometimes he pulls it off, sometimes it just doesn’t land, but often he’s a really keen director.

Kinda like an American version of Edgar Wright; another talented director whose love of film and love of being a clever fuck sometimes trips him up with his own ambitions.

Knives Out is a film that is plenty entertaining, so he probably got the balance right this time. Murder mysteries usually aren’t my thing, because there’s just so many shows and movies about people annihilating each other, but I’m here for clever stuff and decent performances.

This flick has like a dozen hams mostly restrained in the best of ways, in the service of a plot that is not so much a whodunit so much as a “what the hell happened and why, and how nasty is the central family, right?”

You’d also be surprised, considering how many well known faces are in this, as to who the main character is. You might think it’s the detective, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), only because his craggy face is recognisable as the current incarnation of James Bond, or Chris Evans because Captain America. Or that it’s the elderly Captain Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer), just because he’s ancient and was there at the start of cinema cranking the … thing that made the first projector go and lighting the candle that shone through the first time they played a movie of a train to an audience and they all ran around screaming thinking it was real.

That was him. Check yer facts. He was there. But he’s not the main character . Or Jaime Lee Curtis or Don Johnson or perennial oddball Michael Shannon or Australia’s Own Toni Colette or Australia’s Other Own Katherine Langford (star of Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Kill Yourself Or Leave All These Tapes to Torture People With) or Lakeith Stanfield, star of Sorry to Trouble You, Atlanta and just generally being really weird.

No, it’s none of them. It’s actually one of the people on staff at the Thrombey Mansion, being Marta (Ana de Armas), a nurse to the elderly patriarch Harlan (Plummer). Harlan is a crime writer of much success, with a large family of hangers on and parasites (though not of the South Korean kind). He’s smart, very successful, and now he’s dead.


The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

From their expressions, you'd think this was a very serious film.
Why so serious, huh?

dir: David Fincher

Isn’t everyone sick of these goddamn books and movies by now? Haven’t we been dealing with them long enough? Can’t we just let them go, and move on?

Apparently not, since they’re making American versions now, complete with American and British actors speaking with what they hope are Swedish accents. Why are they speaking with Swedish accents? Who the hell knows. We know they’re ‘speaking’ Swedish to themselves, it just ‘sounds’ English to us within the context of the flick, but why some of them would use Swedish Chef accents and some of them wouldn’t makes it all slightly perplexing.

I guess that’s appropriate, since these are meant to be mysteries. Of course, since I’ve read the books and seen the Swedish versions, which had those pesky subtitles and Swedish actors, there’s really no mystery there anymore. Making Hollywood versions presumably opens up a whole new audience of people who hate subtitles, which is a fair number of people. And since they enlisted David Fincher to direct, we know they’re going for the prestige angle, and not the trashy cash-in angle.


The Adjustment Bureau

The Adjustment Bureau

I think the buildings are after them. And the hats.

dir: George Nolfi

Great, another film convincing paranoid schizophrenics that someone really IS out to get them…

This fairly good flick, which I liked a lot, is based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, the mentally ill science fiction writer who’s been dead a long while. Almost every science fiction movie, if not every movie is either based on or should be based on something Philip K. Dick came up with. And why not. His most famous adaptation is of course Blade Runner, but there are probably nearly a hundred other monstrosities based on his stuff out there as well.

The important element you need to grasp about Dick’s writing, if you know or care nothing about him or his writing, is that paranoia underlaid virtually everything he ever wrote. Almost every novel or short story of his that I can remember has a protagonist, who may or may not be crazy, who senses or gleans that someone is either after him or tinkering at the edges of his reality. And always always always, if someone thinks ‘they’ are out to get him, ‘they’ always are. None of his protagonists ever realise in the end that they were just being irrational and paranoid. Never ever ever. Now that’s some good support for the delusions of the mentally ill right there.


Winter's Bone

dir: Debra Granik
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It’s criminal that it’s taken this long for Winter’s Bone to be released into the cinemas of Australia. It’s a damn shame. Usually the length of time it takes certain films to appear here doesn’t bug me, because 600 flicks get released each year, and for every flick I’m not getting to see, there are dozens of others I could be seeing instead.

But there’s something about this flick that, on some level, makes me angry that I had to wait eight or so months before I could see it in the salubrious confines of the Cinema Nova multi-arty-plex.

The film itself, and the main performances, are better than fine, they’re great. There’s some problems arising with the ending, but I can forgive them since for around 100 minutes, Winter’s Bone, which is essentially a detective story, had me riveted to my seat. There’s not a fire, disaster or siren’s call of promised orgasmic pleasures that could have coaxed me out of that seat before the end.

On the other hand, I know these kinds of films that seem to focus on, shall we say, the salt of the earth, reek of condescension and insult to those who think they’re being exploited or mocked. It doesn’t strike me as relevant, but then, I’m not from the Ozarks or the Appalachian Mountains, and I wouldn’t know moonshine from shoe shine.


Ghost Writer, The

dir: Roman Polanski
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Okay, okay, I’ll get this out of the way right from the start: yes, Roman Polanski is a scumbag, and, no, I’m not condoning anything he’s ever done or said, nor am I exonerating him by watching and reviewing one of his films. No, it’s not the moral equivalence argument. No, I’m not saying that his art justifies anything he’s ever done.

And yes, Hitler’s watercolour paintings were okay, not great, but not awful either.

So if I acknowledge that Roman Polanski is worse than a million Hitlers, will you let me just review the fucking film?

The Ghost Writer is so old school that it really does feel like a throwback. If it wasn’t for some of the technology involved, like mobile phones, GPS and memory sticks, the flick could have been indistinguishable from something set or made in the 70s. It’s a very 70s flick, regardless of some of the subject matter.

It’s 70s because it’s languid, paranoid and, despite some of the wintery open spaces, claustrophobic. I guess it makes sense that someone like Polanski could capture that feeling because a) the 70s were his heyday and b) he can probably relate to a main character feeling under siege from the media and the courts. Just a guess, there.



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