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Mystery

Vivarium

Vivarium

It's like something unpleasant, only not enjoyable either

dir: Lorcan Finnegan

2020

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?

Rating:

Knives Out

Knives Out

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

dir: Rian Johnson

2019

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.

Rating:

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.

Rating:

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.

Rating:

Winter's Bone

dir: Debra Granik
[img_assist|nid=1324|title=Let's hunt us some squirrel|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=435|height=290]
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.

Rating:

Ghost Writer, The

dir: Roman Polanski
[img_assist|nid=1262|title=Oh I say, rather, quite.|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=444]
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.

Rating:

Village, The

dir: M. Night Shyamalan
[img_assist|nid=974|title=This Village's people are much scarier than the ones in this movie|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=350|height=296]
Be careful what you wish for, because someone might just strap you to
a chair one day and jam it down your throat using a splintered chunk
of wood. In my last cinematic masterpiece of a review I made a big
issue about poorly directed hyper-efficient Hollywood movies where a
lack of vision results in editors constructing their projects as if
they're animation on a sequence of post-it notes that you have to
flick with your finger for it to make sense. Two second cuts and
jittery camera work abounding. At the complete opposite end of the
spectrum exist the films of M. Night Shyamalan, whose measured pacing,
and long, well-constructed shots you would presume exist as an
antidote to the current madness of strobe light cinema. But does that
necessarily mean they are better films? Or do you keep getting woken
up by your own snoring?

Rating:

Machinist, The

dir: Brad Anderson
[img_assist|nid=962|title=If this acting thing doesn't work out, Christian Bale could always do catwalk|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=400]
This is a film about a pretty strange guy. Trevor Reznik (Christian
Bale), no, not Trent Reznor, who is a strange guy anyway, is an
emaciated insomniac who works a blue collar job and seems to be losing
his marbles. He leaves himself messages which he doesn't understand,
his only meaningful relationship is with an understanding and
supportive prostitute called Stevie (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and the
world itself seems to be working against him in exciting and new ways.

Bale's transformation into this sickly creature has to be seen to be
believed. I'd heard much about the fact that Bale had lost a lot of
weight for the role, but I could not imagine the lengths the guy would
go to in order to be remembered. It's staggering, it really is.
It's one of the most amazing examples of self-mutilation I've ever
seen for a job. Sure, womenfolk do it all the time and it's
considered par for the course in Hollywood, but he makes himself look
so emaciated that I imagine had they shown a picture of Bale as this
Reznik character to concentration camp victims in 1945 the poor
survivors would have shrieked in horror, and wept tears of pity and woe
in his honour.

Rating:

Truth About Charlie, The

dir: Jonathan Demme
[img_assist|nid=1063|title=Sure she's very attractive. The film's still dire, though|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=300]
Whilst cinemas around the world have been awash in the stench of remakes for as long as I can remember, it appears that recent years have been even more prone to the epidemic than ever. Almost as bad as the pernicious outbreak of sequelitis that afflicts contemporary moviemaking, not just Hollywood, is the self-pleasuring / self-consuming process of remaking decent films into crap contemporary movies. I’m not sure that’s the actual business model used, but it seems eerily accurate in terms of results.

The producers of the DVD for this here waste of polycarbonate and chrome make a fatal error in the packaging of the release, at least the Region 4 version that I got to see. The two disk set contains, as well, in the spirit of giving you more bang for your buck, the original film that The Truth About Charlie is based on; Charade. In doing so they make the film they’re actually trying to sell look even worse. The Truth About Charlie is a bad film in its own right. In comparison to Charade, which they helpfully provide as the ideal comparison point, it is downright dire. In truth the film stinks in comparison to just about anything.

Rating:

Mulholland Drive

dir: David Lynch
[img_assist|nid=1075|title=Mulholland Drive|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=668]
A few minutes after watching the film, I found myself at a pub which just happened to be conveniently located around the corner from the cinema. I wasn't sure how I'd gotten there, nor what I was planning on doing once I was there. I sat at the bar, confused and wondering.

Rating:

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