dir: David O. Russell
Do you sometimes hear about a film that a whole bunch of people seem to think is the bee’s knees, the duck’s nuts, the greatest thing since the invention of whisky, and you watch it and think nothing more than a big question mark?
Apparently, Silver Linings Playbook was one of the greatest movies of 2012, perhaps of all time. Your humble writer is in no position to confirm or deny, even after having watched it. Maybe I haven’t seen enough movies. Maybe I’ve seen too many. Whatever the cause, I’m obviously lacking something crucial.
My perplexity doesn’t diminish after having written this review, I’m as confused at the beginning as I am at the end. That’s not to say that this film isn’t modestly enjoyable, it’s just that it’s a very flawed film, and a very conventional one as well.
Mental illness is a tricky subject for movies. Invariably, in the same way they get almost everything real wrong, movies get mental illness wrong wrong wrong. The main character here is a violence-prone maniac with bipolar disorder; it’s what they used to call being manic depressive.
When we first see Pat (Bradley Cooper), he’s in a mental health facility. We don’t know why yet, so one of the first things we see to give us an idea of where this character is coming from, is his taking of, and spitting out, of some medication.
He’s a rebel, he’s a joker, he’s a wild card, he’s a dessert topping and a floor cleaner. Not for him the court-mandated taking of medication, no. Rebellion all the way, McMurphy!
dir: Lee Toland Krieger
I guess you could call it a romantic comedy, but then how many rom-coms start where the relationship is already over?
We get to see the entire span of Celeste and Jesse’s relationship and marriage in montage over the opening credits, and by the time actors are saying dialogue, we’re shocked when a friend of the central couple, Beth (Ari Graynor) screams at them for still acting like a goofy married couple when they’ve been separated for the last six months.
It’s a shock to them, and it’s a shock to us, because, well, what were we expecting? They lulled us into a false sense of security, by representing their relationship one way, and then cruelly telling us it’s the opposite.
What are we supposed to think? What kind of romance occurs after the break-up? The messy kind. Celeste and Jesse Forever is really about two people who love each other and for whom being in a committed relationship doesn’t really work anymore, can’t work, no matter how many moments they individually and together get where they think maybe they should.
Real life intrudes, it always intrudes. The days where one of them thinks they should get back together is the day the other finds someone completely new out there in the world, and the possibility of having something with someone else sparks briefly. The next day, one of them thinks they’re never going to have it as great as they did with Celeste or Jesse, and this regret causes them to undermine what they have, with the hope that maybe they can go back.
Thing is, you can never go back, because you’re not the same person, or because they’re the same person they were when you left them, and no different result can transpire.
dir: Colin Trevorrow
Sometimes I can’t see the plain things in front of me that other people can see. I don’t know whether it’s an eye problem, or some kind of neurological disorder, but, whatever it is, it means the virtues of this particular flick have completely eluded me.
The premise is that this vaguely has something to do with a classified ad that was put in a Seattle newspaper once upon a time, whereby someone pretended to be asking for someone in order to go time travelling together. Hence the Safety Not Guaranteed appellation, as in you couldn’t Guarantee someone’s Safety if they come with you into the Mesozoic era, but you still want someone to come with you, bringing their own weapons and expertise, and maybe a cut lunch. Sunscreen would be nice, and maybe a change of underwear.
That vaguest of premises has a basis in fact by only the loosest of definitions, in that someone once posted an ad like that. It was, however, a joke, as in a fake ad.
From this somehow they’ve spun a confection whose purpose, I guess, is to illuminate the gutting feeling many of us possess whereby we wish we could go back in time to correct something that happened or something horrible that we did. Yes, yes, we all have regrets. But this flick, not unusual in the cinematic landscape, makes literal this wish, in that we’re gradually meant to believe that the nutjob at the centre of the flick could actually do it.
To say that I was not on board with this premise from the start would be accurate. To say that I became less convinced of what the story was saying as it went on would be accurate as well. To say that I thought none of it worked, and that it built to an ending that was wholly unearned would be an understatement.
Darius (Aubrey Plaza) is an unpaid intern at a shitty Seattle magazine. Why a woman has a man’s name is never explained. Why this woman is an unpaid intern is easy to parse: she’s trying to enter journalism in this day and age. I mean, that’s the most foolish thing I’ve ever heard, someone trying to break into the dying medium of the media. I mean, everyone knows only the absolute best of the best, the brightest and the most dedicated need apply. Everyone else, like Darius, is just going to be there to get the coffees and the lunches.
dir: Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris
Being a deeply neurotic person, I regularly fall prey to a panoply of fears. One of the most fundamental for me is either not being seen as a person, or failing to see other people as real people.
I'm sure that probably sounds a bit weird. I mean, there are a bunch of far more reasonable and likely things to be terrified of. Spiders, for one, insanity, earthquakes, tsunamis, radiation, cancer, germs; there's a lot out there, and they're just the simplistic ones. People with elaborate and expansive imaginations can think of plenty more crap on a second-by-second basis to be horrified at the prospect of.
My fear about forgetting to see the inherent humanness of people and just seeing them as objects is a powerful one, because I think it's so easy.
You forget, sometimes, don't you, when you're dealing with someone who seems more like a collection of annoyances rather than a living, breathing person, to see them as they deserve to be seen, as a whole person? Or when you fixate on some other aspects of their being, and completely forget about their personhood, and instead bliss out at whatever aspect / fetish takes your fancy?
And what if you do this overwhelmingly to the people you're meant to be closest to in your life, like your own partner or family?
When Ruby Sparks first came out, I recall reading various conversations about how some people were seeing this film as a takedown, a deconstruction of the so-called "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" character that permeates the entertainment sphere. The character, almost always written into screenplays by male writers, tends to reduce female characters to idiotic and simplistic caricatures of femininity just to help a dull male character our of their funk. Sure, fiction is a form of fantasy, but these characters tend to be seen explicitly as a male fantasy of what a superficial but desirable 'woman' would really be like.
This construct, this 'thing' they play has nothing to do with the physical: it comes down to how mindlessly and without agency they act. The bipolar energy, the tweeness, the flightiness, the 24-hour sexual availability, the borderline psychoticness are all, somehow, meant to be desirable to us, the viewer, looking through the eyes of the male protagonist. It's strange, I know, but there you have it.
If you're still not sure what I'm talking about, here's a list of manic pixie dream girls that I can think of off the top of my head: anything played by Zooey Deschanel in everything she's ever done, (often) Maggie Gyllenhaal, Meg Ryan in her heyday, a lot of Natalie Portman's crapper roles, and basically any role where the character's sole purpose is a feisty 'feminine' function that wouldn’t seem to exist except that the main character needs her to.
The writer of this film, however, Zoe Kazan, granddaughter of the legendary and infamous director Elia Kazan, rejects this outright. Ruby Sparks, for her, and she should know, isn't about the propensity for screenwriters to write these empty characters; it's about the danger of idealising the people we're romantically involved with.
She also plays Ruby, so I guess we have to take her word as law. As in, she's the Judge Dredd of this endeavour, and if she says 'manic pixie dream girl' is a misogynistic and reductive term, and that it doesn't exist really as a phenomenon in movies, then She is the Law, and must be right.
dir: Lorene Scafaria
If the world was going to literally end, and we knew about it in advance, and we knew exactly when it was going to happen, what would we all do with the time we had left? It’s a compelling what if? of a thought experiment, and usually, in art at least, it’s reserved to “if you were going to die, what stuff would you do finally that you never had the courage to do before?”
This time, though, everyone’s going to die. Every living thing extinguished in a cataclysm that won’t be averted with a couple of seconds to go, apparently, since this is what the film tells us from the opening minutes. A man (Steve Carrell) and his wife (Nancy Carrell) listen blankly as the radio in their car outlines the failure of some last-ditch attempt to avert the disaster. A meteor called Matilda, which is as good a name as any for something fixing to permanently end your present world, continues on its course towards Earth, where it will obliterate all life, perhaps.
The couple sit grimly in the car, until the wife bails, never to return. Why would she? The point the flick makes sometimes bluntly, sometimes eloquently, is that knowing the end is actually nigh would render most of the underpinnings of the social contract utterly null and void. Why be faithful to your husband or wife; the world’s ending in a few weeks, what difference will it make? Why go to work: is money going to stop Matilda? Why not take hard drugs and take part in uncomfortable orgies? Addictions not going to matter, STDs aren’t going to matter, unintended pregnancies aren’t going to matter.
Social conventions, infrastructure, the value of being courteous to each other: all of it falls apart even when the coming apocalypse doesn’t involve zombies, vampires or mutants.
This is a time where the end of things sits heavily on the minds of writers, screenwriters and the hard drives and Kindles et al of a lot of viewers and readers. If there are too many superhero flicks coming out, then there are even more ‘too many’ apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic movies that have been coming out for far too long.
In Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, it’s not used as an excuse for cool head-exploding special effects or fight choreography. It’s solely used as the pretty big trigger for a whole bunch of people, being all of humanity, to start deciding what is and isn’t important to them in these last days.
dir: Daryl Wein
Now, this film isn't a million miles away from the Australian flick I reviewed the other day whose name I refuse to repeat right now. Suffice to say it involves characters in their late twenties questioning what the heck they're doing with their lives, in a manner that is meant to be entertaining and edifying for us shmos in the audience.
This one does a much better job, even though it's not immediately obvious as to why. It's just as pretentious and filled to the brim with annoying characters overflowing with affectations, and it has a murky path with a dubious destination in mind, and doesn't really have a lot of substance to it.
That hardly matters because, at the very least, the main character in this instance, called Lola, surprisingly enough, is actually quite likeable even if she is something of a fuck-up, and it's actually enjoyable to spend time with her, most of the time at least.
No, I'm not playing gender favourites here, nor am I letting my growing admiration for Greta Gerwig's talent colour my vision. I think she's delightful, though I've already seen her in stuff that I've hated (Greenberg being the primary one). She has a charming manner about her, melding obsessive neuroticism with an unselfconscious manner (totally studied) that I find very engaging. I thought she was wonderful in Damsels in Distress, and Lola Versus only advances my belief that she's wonderful in films even if what she's in is fairly slight.
Lola Versus is that fairly slight flick, even as it deals with emotional drama and interpersonal conflict between a bunch of New Yorkers. Not just New Yorkers, but ones seeming to live in the Greenwich Village - East Village area. In other words, hipster douchebags. Lola and her crazy-in-love boyfriend Luke (Joel Kinnaman) are about to get married in the film's opening moments, only for Luke to pull the pin.
dir: Rob Heydon
I approach anything to do with Irvine Welsh with a great deal of trepidation these days, but I was curious to see this, since I recall reading the book way before my fear and loathing for Welsh began.
And what I recall is that the book had three stories, one having to do with some hospital plagued by a necrophiliac and a romance writer, the other to do with some armless girl rendered armless in utero due to some Thalidomide-like chemical and the football hooligan she enlists for revenge, and a third story I don’t remember that well.
That third story alone serves as the basis for this flick, which follows the adventures of ecstasy gobbler Lloyd (Adam Sinclair) and the various addled people in his life. It’s a good thing, too. My main reason for losing interest in Welsh’s writing is that I just can’t handle the sexual horror stuff he dreams up and messily expels onto the page. Everyone has limits, and I reached mine a long time ago with him, even as I acknowledge Trainspotting to be a landmark book (and subsequent film).
Everything he ever does will always be compared back to that achievement, and, conversely, all drug films are compared back to Trainspotting. It would be a mistake to assume that this flick attempts to do for ecstasy what the earlier film did for heroin. It does go some way towards depicting something of life in Edinburgh, and it certainly tries to embrace and express the euphoria of the drug and the scene. It’s a moot and pointless point to argue over whether it glamourises the drug specifically or drugs in general. It admits the drug is fucking great, but that there are downsides to taking it with compulsive regularity.
So it’s not an after-school special showing an innocent teenage girl taking the drug once and dying from organ failure on the floor of some club, or some guy taking one tab, getting gangbanged and then throwing himself off of the highest point of Edinburgh Castle. I’m not going to go so far as to argue that it gives a mature or realistic depiction of the drug and its effects either. All I can say is that it’s not particularly moralistic about it all, and who can blame them.
For a film set in Scotland, there are an awful lot of Canadians in this flick, so much so that I started getting the feeling that a lot of scenery-establishing footage, lots of postcard shots were taken in Edinburgh and Amsterdam, and then much of it must have been filmed in Toronto behind closed doors. Otherwise, I can’t see the economic sense of paying for the airfares of superstar Canadian megahunks such as Stephen McHattie and Colin Mochrie. Rwaor!!!! Ladies, get back, they’re spoken for!
dir: Lasse Hallstrom
This title is a blatant rip-off of the band Trout Fishing in Quebec, but I’ll forgive it that. I won’t forgive it much else along the way. Lasse Hallstrom is responsible for some truly terribly treacly flicks in the past, but somehow he was able to pull out before making a horrible mess this time.
I have not and will never read the book this flick is based on, but I’m virtually certain at least one thing about the book doesn’t carry over to the film. The character that McGregor plays has to have been older than the one he plays here, otherwise it makes no sense. Well, I guess it makes some sense if he has Asperger’s, or is just emotionally retarded, but then again, he’s a guy, so it’s hard to tell the difference.
Dr Alfred Jones (McGregor) is an expert on fish, and lives and breathes their fishy world as if it were his own. It’s humans he can’t stand. Even though he’s so curmudgeonly that it hurts the eyeballs, he has somehow managed to marry a woman who, for most of the film, is as emotionless and proper as he is, so they’re an ideal match.
Ewan's great, like he always is, but even he acts so stuffy at times that he almost looks disgusted with himself. He is one of those actors, like Johnny Depp, like R. Lee Ermy, that the womenfolk, in my humble estimation, will watch and adore in anything they do, no matter how good or lame. Maybe not former Marine Drill Sergeant R. Lee Ermy. He'd scare women into having orgasms, as opposed to the firm but gentle coaxing methods Depp and McGregor would be responsible for.
dir: Glenn Ficara & John Requa
There’s two things wrong with that title, and I’m not referring to the grammar or punctuation.
It’s certainly Stupid, but there’s no real craziness or love to speak of.
This flick manages to achieve something that I never considered possible: it manages to be both bland AND offensive, which I thought was a combination that was oxymoronic.
I can’t even begin to describe how wrong this flick is, on how many levels, yet I can start up on how unentertaining I found it to be.
Yeah, I could start on that stuff, but instead I’ll indulge myself, as if I do anything else whenever I write about flicks. A person would never suspect it from looking at me, or from reading my reviews, or from using public transport in close proximity to me, but I am, or at least consider myself to be, something of a romantic. I’m not going to quibble about whether that’s a small ‘r’ romantic or a big ‘R’ Romantic, because that’s a pretentious bridge too far even for me. Clearly I wasn’t palling around and doing drugs with the actual Romantics like Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge or Benny Hill, but I do still have the capacity to swoon in the presence - and at the thought of - heartbreaking beauty, overwhelming passion, and love, careless love.
This flick possesses nothing even remotely like that, but nor did I have that expectation based solely on a title. All this movie has to contribute is a couple of hours of feeble material interspersed with a painful level of farce, and some very, very creepy messages.
dir: Will Gluck
Two attractive people. A fast-talking banal screenplay. The very barest of mocking derision aimed at romantic comedies within the text and the subtext. What could go wrong?
Nothing, nothing at all.
I find it very hard to buy Justin Timberlake as anything or anyone else apart from Justin Timberlake. It’s hard for me to buy him playing a character, any character. It doesn’t adversely impact on one’s potential enjoyment of this flick, I guess, if enjoyment is what you’re hoping for from a flick with Justin Timberlake in it.
It’s an effervescent trifle, a virtually forgettable flick forgotten as it is being watched, of such an incredible level of shallowness that it barely registers within human let alone goldfish memory consciousness.
I guess that’s not a bad thing. It’s not like they’re trying to teach us anything of great importance, like that tolerance is nice, and that racism is bad, or something similarly controversial. It’s just something people, presumably youngish people, could take someone to on a date, presumably to convince that someone, being a female, to have sex with you, being a male, afterwards.
What, alcohol’s not good enough for you? You really need to endure an hour and a half of Timberlake’s adolescent looks and Mila Kunis’s dentist’s drill of a voice in order to get some? Maybe that will convince the other person of your commitment to Sparkle Motion or to loving lovingness long enough for them to let their guard and panties down.
You could see Friends With Benefits as the latest salvo in the eternal battle of the sexes as it’s been represented on the big screen since long before Spencer Tracy was battling it out with Katherine Hepburn. Yes, they were fucking sinfully every chance they got off screen, everyone knew. It doesn’t really bring anything new to the table though, apart from endless shots of people using smart phones and gadgeting all over the place integrated pointlessly into the story.
dir: Derek Cianfrance
Jesus, what a fucking depressing film.
Maybe it’s not entirely depressing, just mostly depressing. At the very least, it’s wrenching, gutting and very uncomfortable. And sad.
And what’s it about? Well, it’s about two people not in love anymore.
I don’t think I could ever bring myself to watch this flick again. That’s not entirely true: it’s really well made, I guess. And the music is really nice and appropriate, and heartbreaking at certain points. And it’s well filmed and well acted.
But, jeez, does it hurt to think about it.
Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) are a married couple who are clearly not happy. Their marriage is clearly headed towards dissolution. Dean is surly, drunk and hectoring, passive aggressive as well as just outright aggressive, fuelled by his sensing that Cindy is shutting him out.
Cindy clearly cannot stand Dean anymore, and their every remark to each other is brittle, jagged and fraught with peril. Don’t mistake this for some highfalutin Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf retread where sophisticates are tossing martini-enhanced barbs and cutting witticisms at each other. They, being the two leads, play it like real people unwilling to face the reality that they shouldn’t be together anymore.
It seems so simple, and obvious. But then think of how many films are actually about this anymore? Romantic flicks are all about longing, and suffering and ever so artful misunderstandings, all justified in the end by the idea that we are made complete and whole by the right person.
dir: Luca Guadagnino
You wouldn’t think a title like I Am Love would pack them into the multiplexes. I guess in Italian, if you’re not an Italian speaker, Io Sonno L’Amore sounds that much more exotic and alluring. Despite these obvious obstacles, these wonderful people still thought they’d get together and create an exquisite flick about how passion makes idiots of otherwise rational people, as if the books Madam Bovary and Anna Karenina were never written, and no-one ever read them.
Honestly, I can’t recall the last time it was implied in a flick that women could have sex with someone outside of their marriage and that it didn’t result in death, murder, suicide or the end of the fucking world. Is it really that catastrophic? Male characters cheat constantly, and the world seems to keep turning, and yet whenever a female character, and a mother, no less, finds passion or solace in the arms of another, someone always ends up dead.
Of course it would be unfair of me to assert that this flick is going for anything close to a moralistic or judgemental tone in the slightest. It’s anything but what it sounds like I’ve described, because it’s an amazing construction. I rarely see flicks, and I’ve seen a bundle, so exquisitely and meticulously put together. It’s so intricately put together, from a cinematography, set design, sound, score and editing point of view, that there’s almost little room for the acting performances.
Almost, but not quite. This flick is an engine, or a machine at least. Not a single shot is taken simply when it can be done in a far more fussy and seemingly meaningful way. Even as I marvelled at it from a distance, and realised I was more impressed with the construction that the content, I had to remind myself that it’s still about people. Rich people. Rich People With Problems.
dir: Marc Webb
There aren’t that many good romantic flicks. I don’t think it’s the boring case of “They just don’t make ‘em like they used to, and get off my lawn, you deadbeats” beyond the heyday of the Golden blah blah of Hollywood. Romantic flicks invariably suck because they’re invariably crappy, inhuman and lazy.
And yet romance infects its way into almost any other flick and genre you can think of. Romance on its own, though, without the ‘comedy’ support of being at least a romantic comedy? Oh, it’s fucking awful, almost 99 per cent of the time.
That figure is empirical fact, based on years of meticulous research, forensic testing and cross-matching with the FBI’s crime database.
I don’t think this flick is anywhere near up the top of the genre with the few decent romantic flicks of the last couple of decades or so, but it doesn’t completely and utterly suck.
We are told right from the start that though this is a story about love, that it is not a love story, and that it is more about the misery a failed relationship can bring rather than the sheer scope and magnitude of wonderfulness that can occur when everything goes right.
Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who was just sooooo great in that last GI Joe movie, wears a lot of sweater vests and ties in this flick. That alone almost made me gouge my eyes out. He is a fairly happy-go-lucky chappie who meets a girl at work and tentatively ends up having sex with her.
Summer (Zooey Deschanel), is the kooky and wide-eyed bundle of affectations that Tom inevitably falls in love with. But right from the start she makes it clear to Tom that she has no ability for or interest in pursuing a relationship, because she’s either unwilling or incapable of falling in love.
Right there, that’s part of your whole problem right there, as anyone who’s ever had a relationship or two knows: Difference of expectations.
You want love, they just want sex; you want sex, they want money; they want bondage, you want puppies; they want head, you just want to sleep; they want to move in, you want to move to Antarctica; you want them, they want anyone but you.
dir: Barry Luhrmann
Moulin Rouge, the fourth in the Three Colours series, is the first to depart from the tried and true formula of having silly French people overact at the drop of a croissant. Instead, in another of his long list of genre bursting endeavours, Barry Luhrmann decided to shift the focus of his vision to the future. In this science fiction / horror crossover, Luhrmann paints a bleak yet colourful canvas of his chilling view of a post apocalyptic alternate future where the fabric of society has been discarded like a drunken bridesmaid's undies and people speak in a post literate language called "ham", obscuring all meaningful communication and leading to sorrow, loneliness and death.
The film begins at a time referred to as "1899", but astute viewers will note that this has nothing to do with actual earth history. On some newly colonised planet, a city called "Paris" cradles both our protagonists and the venue that the film takes its name from, the Moulin Rouge, or "Red Snapper", cunningly referring to the legendary Led Zeppelin groupie anecdote of the same name.
Ewan MacGregor reprises his role of Obi Wan Kenobi without raising the ire of Lucasfilm's platoons of lawyers, and neglects to display his well-abused fleshy lightsabre, to the disappointed groans of audiences everywhere. Hired by an opium addicted Yoda (played by John Leguizamo, in the second most terrifying role of the film), he is asked to kill an evil cannibalistic cyborg played astoundingly well by Nicole Kidman, who doesn't break character once. Reluctantly, he agrees, against his better judgement, but cannot see that he is being set up for a fall.
Nicole Kidman is truly chilling as the cyborg cannibal, often seen wiping the blood of her victims from her mouth. In her cover role as the most famous and highly paid "courtesan" (ie. working girl) in all of the Paris moon colony, her credibility ranks second only to Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman for portraying such a convincing, risky, edgy role. Utterly convincing as a mercenary prostitute that never actually has to "put out", so to speak, her acting talents are barely stretched, especially since her simultaneous portrayal of the cannibal cyborg and wily courtesan is flawless, in that it couldn't be more static or inanimate.
She truly is the most terrifying presence I've seen in a film since Divine in Pink Flamingoes.
dir: Richard Curtis
This is a singular work of staggering banality. Now, that’s an achievement and a half. From the makers of such romantic classics as Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill to make a film that eclipses those in terms of superficiality and mawkish sentimentality takes a phenomenal amount of skill, money and enough ham to cover the Tower of London three times over in order to achieve their goals. And goddamn them, they get there in the end.
I hate to say it, but this 2 hour commercial for whatever the hell it is that director Richard Curtis is ineptly selling made me want to destroy Christmas forever. If anything, despite the clear intention set out in the movie’s title to be a concentrated explosion of goodwill and love towards all men and women, this film, I believe, has decreased the amount of love that was previously available in the world. If you are a person for whom there is no more love, for whatever you thought was the reason you could get no love in your life, this crappy flick is responsible.
dir: Michael Winterbottom
The film is exactly 69 minutes long. It consists of a smattering of banal dialogue between two people, they also do some drugs, squabble a bit, and they go to some great gigs. They also fuck. They fuck a lot. The weird thing is, they really are having sex. We see it in all its messy glory.
This isn’t meant to be a porn film. And it’s not a porn film, really. Most porn films have better production values. But their soundtracks usually aren’t this enjoyable. And they don’t usually have scenes from actual gigs at Brixton Academy, the Forum, Hammersmith Odeon, or the Empire in between the sex scenes.
I’ve used this gag many times in my reviews and conversations with people about films, where I say stuff like, “By Lucifer’s beard, the plot of that film was so bad that even porn films have better and more coherent plots”. Now I’m going to officially retire that gag and never use it again. I realised that porn films haven’t had plots for years, and anyone that watches them thinks “What the fuck you talkin’ about, Willis?” whenever I say it in a review.
See, I come from a naïve, innocent time, when “actors” like Christy Canyon, Ginger Lynn and John Holmes would chew over some pretty cheesy and sometimes funny dialogue in between getting down and dirty. Porn films these days, from what I gather, predominately have people going at it like coked-up steel rabbits, with barely any time for an introduction or so much as a “how’s your father?”. It’s a production line mentality. Economies of scale. More bang for your buck.
Even then, even then, and this is the last time I’m ever going to use this gag, contemporary porn films have more of a plot than 9 Songs does. Pool boys, mechanics, pizza delivery guys, nurses, sexy secretaries; they’re all entirely absent from here. Which is a shame. I think the film could have done with some characterisation. Some depth.
dir: David Lean
Hoochie. Ryan’s daughter is a hoochie. In case you’re not up with the latest in derogatory nomenclature, Rosy Ryan is an Irish strumpet, and this long-arse movie is entirely devoted to elucidating upon the topic of just how much of a hussy she is.
It’s a strange film in some ways, and a very simple film in a few others. It is filmed in an awe-inspiring way that makes the west coast of Ireland look like a mythical land of giants, but the story it tells is so small that you wonder why they went to all the trouble and expense. The same story is played out on daytime television every single day. Usually with lots of bleeped out swearing and people throwing chairs.
But enough about my last intervention.
dir: Sofia Coppolla
Considering how little press this film has received and the manner in which it has been criminally ignored, by critics, by audiences, by homeless people, I thought I'd do the greater community a service by bringing this film to the attention of the billions of people out there hunched over and trembling in the cold, shadowy vale of ignorance.
Rivalling only Mystic River in terms of overblown ejaculatory press over the last year, Lost in Translation has amazed many people by having achieved such incredible notoriety for what is essentially a low key, small scale film. I mean, it's a lovely little film, but the frenzy surrounding it leaves me utterly perplexed.
The fact that it's competing against films like Return of the King for the Best Picture and Best Director awards shows how truly turvy topsy this crazy world is becoming. After the big budget excesses of films like the last instalment in the Rings trilogy, the oceanic blokey splendour of Russell Crowe, a few hundred men and his massive ego all crammed into a wooden ship on the high seas in Master and Commander: The Far Side of Credibility and the annual Miramax superficial Oscarbait Cold Mountain, perhaps Lost in Translation was the perfect antidote. All the same, the manner in which these films get compared in these arbitrary ways is profoundly mystifying to me. It's like having an event at the Olympics where a weightlifter, a heavy weight
boxer, an ice skater and one of the cleaners all compete for the same gold medal.
No-one has to or needs to tell me how meaningless the Oscars or any awards are, really. All the same Lost In Translation has received a stack of them.
dir: Michel Gondry
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a rarity in this day and age: a film that has elements of romance, drama and comedy without being hampered or paralysed by any of those aspects. In truth this film is beyond a rarity: it's a gem that stars, inexplicably, Jim ‘Ham on Rye' Carrey and Kate 'Let Me Get The Twins Out' Winslet playing two oddball characters that don't pander, don't beg us to love how cute they are and therefore circumvent the natural expectations that an audience member might have of a scriptwriter having to create a story we could possibly care about. One that doesn't ploddingly, predictably, stagger from point A to point B to point Zzzzz.
Let's face it romantic comedies are about as popular as syphilis to those of us that don't think Maid in Manhattan, the Wedding Singer and Pretty Woman are the pinnacle of the cinematic experience. Sure, I understand, we're ungrateful, but some of us aspire to something more out of film and of life. With that in mind when something comes along that's clever and sweet it seems fuckstruckingly out of place. What? It's funny AND romantic? Are the seas boiling? Is that sky falling? Isn't this one of the signs of the forthcoming Apocalypse?
It's a bittersweet story inventively told and engagingly realised that succeeds despite Carrey's best attempts to fuck things up. It's Jim Carrey after all, a guy that probably has to be tranquilised for roles like this in order to keep him under control. Like many of the scripts that idiot / savant Charlie Kaufman has thus far been responsible for, the entire story seems to hinge on only one kooky idea: what if the technology existed to allow people to have their painful memories erased? Would people use it to stop being paralysed by the past, by their bad choices, their missteps and their mistakes? If people did go down this path, would their identity, their sense of self remain the same?
dir: Richard Linklater
I'm not a fan, even remotely, of romantic movies. Romantic movies generally have the same effect on me intellectually as Draino would have on a human's gastrointestinal system upon consumption. I doubt anyone's going to be surprised by that. Hey, I'm not some stoic, repressed, unemotional automaton. I don't work in an abattoir nailgunning creatures in the head day in day out for a living or for fun; I haven't 'shut down' emotionally because of my second tour of duty in 'Nam where I put my hand in a pile of goo that used to be my best friend's face. I am, in short, a product of the current age, not overly apathetic about stuff, but not too interested in getting sweaty over anything either.
All in all, I am clearly not the demographic intended for anything explicitly shelved under the Romance section of the local franchise video rental chain. You know where I mean, be it your local Burstblocker or LeproZYDVD, where they have over fifty copies of the latest Adam Sandler / Drew Barrymore flick, and no copies of any films by Federico Fellini. Yeah, I know, I'm a snob when it comes to movies, so sue me.
dir: Wong Kar Wai
2046 is a lush, beautifully filmed movie with an aching coldness at its heart. It’s a complementary film to In the Mood for Love, but it’s so much of a mutated yet ‘faithful’ continuation that calling it a sequel feels inaccurate.
In the Mood for Love was about two people clearly in love with each other trapped by circumstances and their apartments into never being together. 2046 has the male character, Chow Mo Wan (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) continue on his way whilst doing an autopsy on himself the whole time. It is essentially about how screwed up he is as a person now that he refuses to open his heart ever again after ‘losing’ Su Li Zhen (Maggie Cheung) from the first film.
So, even though he swans about with his cool pimp moustache and looks the dapper dandy, inside, his heart is dead. Women are in ready supply and close proximity, but he uses them solely for sex and keeps them a million miles away emotionally. The ones that want him repulse him, the ones that he thinks he might want, were he not an amputee from the result of dwelling permanently in the past, don’t want or care about him at all.
dir: Ang Lee
It’s strange that such a big deal is being made about this film. Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautifully shot, well-acted, with a touching, sad story to tell.
But it’s such a low-key story, regardless of all the controversy surrounding it. And let’s not skimp on the praise here, it’s utterly ridiculous that such subject matter can still get so many people’s girdles in a twist in this day and age.
Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) work as shepherds in the mountain region of Wyoming one summer in 1963. They talk like Texans, and dress like the Marlboro Man, so I guess they must be cowboys. They’re really not cowboys, though. So those, like me, who were expecting two hours of gay cowboys eating pudding, will be disappointed. Instead of proving the old South Park gag about all arthouse films, they subverted it, the bastards.
Their job on the mountain is to let the sheep graze, and to protect them at night from coyotes and other predators. And though it be 1963, the place is still a pristine wilderness. As such, depicted in relatively modern times, the place has an air of unreality to it, as if it is some fabled realm, of nature unspoiled, where man doesn’t really belong. So two men, up there, all alone on Brokeback Mountain; cold nights, flowing whisky, sleeping in a tent together, what else would you expect, eh?
dir: Bertrand Blier
This film is terrible even by the standards of French cinema. I’m no Gallophobe, disliking the French or their cinema by any stretch of the imagination, but this flick is appalling according to any criteria that I can think to apply.
Look, it’s not the acting. The actors are, I’m sure, doing the best they can with the material. And many a French film possesses a certain arch or pretentious sensibility that would be ridiculed in flicks from any other culture. But here, the scripting, the plotting and the editing combine to produce an absolutely shithouse result that knows no borders.
It’s not unpleasant to watch for most of the time, with the sound and subtitles turned off. Any film that has Monica Bellucci in it has at least two good reasons to watch it, whether lingerie clad or not. And the great advantage that this film has over, say, Irreversible, is that the audience isn’t subjected to watching her being subjected to the most horrendous assault imaginable over a prolonged period of time.
But this film is still appalling. Even with Bellucci, and Gerard Depardieu, that giant of French cinema in more ways than one, in this flick, it’s still unwatchably stupid.
dir: John Carney
How many times are you likely to watch this flick, if at all? Once. How many times will you listen to the CD? Once. How many times will you hear the Oscar-winning song Falling Slowly that features in the film and is likely going to be used in every ad trying to sell everything from haemorrhoid creams to fighter jets and cheese-in-a-can? Probably dozens of times.
Once is a very simple, very unambitious flick that is nonetheless quite charming. It is billed as a romance, but really, it’s about two people who meet, sing and play some songs together, and that’s it. There’s really not much else to it.
The story, such as it is, looks at The Guy (Glen Hansard) who repairs vacuum cleaners in his dad’s shop. He also busks on the streets singing his own songs. In an amusing exchange to open proceedings, he spies a junkie who looks like he’s going to try to steal the change dropped on his guitar cover. When the junkie does what is expected of him, and The Guy has to chase him down, it seems like the junkie and the Guy know each other quite well.
The Guy meets The Girl (Marketa Irglova), a Czech immigrant with a daughter and some musical ability. Guy and Girl are brought together by their love of music, but not by any romantic connection. Though they might, in an ideal world, be able to get drunk and fuck like crazed weasels, in their actual world, there are too many obstacles to achieving this at the start.
dir: Julie Taymor
Julie Taymor, being Julie Taymor, delivers high concept drama-free colour-soaked movies rich in immaculate artistic design and acting little higher up on the relative scale compared to dinner theatre.
In Across the Universe, she delivers a musical using much of the Beatles better known back catalogue, which is more of a homage to the gullibility of audiences seeking a romantic fix mixed with 60s Americana clichés rather than honouring the Liverpudlian larrikins and their music.
Is it entertaining? Eh, if you like polished, sickly sweet musicals and karaoke versions of classic pop songs, then maybe it is. Maybe it is.
But otherwise the clearest thought that came into my mind was that this flick seriously reminded me, as most things remind me, of an episode of The Simpsons where trusty news anchor Kent Brockman starts a news story about the 1960s saying something like “And here’s a 60s montage.” Random cliché scenes of hippies, the National Guard popping skulls at Kent State, civil rights marches and Vietnam protests flick past to the accompaniment of All Along the Watchtower by Hendrix. At the end of the montage, Brockman intones in disgust “What a shrill and pointless decade.”
Well, Kent, feel free to describe this film in a similar fashion.