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10 stars

A Ghost Story

A Ghost Story

He never once even gets to say "BOO!"

dir: David Lowery

2017

This is such a strange and beautiful movie. I cannot believe it exists.

I cannot believe people convinced other people that this was going to work in any way. If you watch it and describe the premise to people, they will laugh in your fucking face.

I exaggerate often and in extreme ways, but this is one of the few times where my words barely grasp the strangeness on display.

But that’s not to say that the film itself is that out there or trippy. It’s not. It’s really simple. It’s extraordinarily simple. What I’m trying to convey is that something like this is rarely ever made into a film. Maybe a comedy sketch, maybe an animated short, but an actual movie?

That could be part of the appeal. It’s certainly not the presence of Casey Affleck, who somehow managed to become the worst Affleck in a family where he isn’t even the one who played a burly Batman who kills people.

No, his crimes are in the real world, not on the cinema screen. Even before he won an Oscar for playing the lead in Manchester-by-the-Sea a number of women accused him of sexual assault and harassment, and, by the fact that he paid good money to quieten their voices we can rest assured that he is free to do this crap again in future. He didn’t direct the film at least, and though he’s in it, as in, you see him for a bit, for most of the movie you can’t see him directly.

Why? Well, because his character is a ghost, with a Halloween-like sheet over himself, with two dark holes cut out of the sheet for the eyes.

A young couple (Affleck and Rooney Mara) move into a crappy looking house in, I dunno, rural Texas maybe? A couple of unexplained but harmless things happen, a few mysterious sounds, but it’s fine.

Then the chap dies, and something wakes up, wearing the sheet, and walks all the way home.

Rating:

The White Tiger

White Tiger

Eat the Rich, kill kill kill kill kill kill the poor: I don't know who
out of Aerosmith, Motorhead and the Dead Kennedys had it right

dir: Ramin Bahrani

2021

Right from the start, right off the bat, let me tell you something for free: This is the best movie about murdering someone in order to become a successful businessman that I have ever seen.

Any other movies that you’ve seen where someone murders people in order to become successful, they are but as ants at the feet of Alexander the Great.

The great trick that The White Tiger pulls off, that in my eyes Parasite didn’t quite pull off, is that not only is it as good if not better than the novel it is based on by Aravind Adiga that won the Booker Prize in 2008, it makes you almost accept without having too many qualms about it, that the scum of the lower orders sometimes are almost justified in killing their oppressors. That the people at the top of the hierarchy are awful and do awful things, especially to the lower orders, and actively maintain the system which keeps people down. Thus social and societal mobility depends on killing one’s betters, taking their place, and hopefully being kinder to the people below you.

It probably sounds like I’m being sarcastic, but honestly, I’m not. I’m pretty sure neither the main character of Balram (Adarsh Gourav) nor the author are actually advocating that every poor person should rise up and kill the rich. If they were, that would be sweet. The broader societal implications of what Balram is saying only really apply to him. There is no self-help manual on getting out of The Darkness, as he calls it, or, alternately, the rooster coop, other than desperately fighting your way out.

One of the more shocking aspects of the novel, for me, someone who knows little about India and its multitudes, is just what an appalling picture it paints of Indian society, and the prevalent system apportioning personal worth we refer to as the caste system. They don’t call it that, because ‘caste’ isn’t a Hindi word. But there are moments in the film where Balram is asked what his caste is, in order for the asker to know whether Balram is a higher order of scum or a lower order of scum.

He takes a while to answer. He is of the Halwei cast, the sweet maker caste, which is considered one of the lower castes. Boo, hiss you lower orders, get back to your awful villages and make sweets for us, you presumptuous scum!

In stories like this, and there are millions of them, life in the village is sometimes depicted as idyllic, as pure and wonderful, with the main character being forced to travel to the big city in order to learn valuable lessons about what matters, and how the simple life is better than aspiring towards wealth and power.

Rating:

Samson and Delilah

Samson & Delilah

True love finds a way in the end, we hope

dir: Warwick Thornton

2009

Samson and Delilah is unlike any other film, Australian or otherwise, in its depiction of Aboriginal characters or an Australian story. It is unflinching, and brutal, and beautiful. It might take its name from the biblical story, but this tale is far more real, current, tragic and yet hopeful in its ultimate realisation.

It is not a romantic flick, mostly. There isn’t much dialogue. It’s as meticulously crafted as any work of art you’re likely to ever see, but its purpose isn’t to entertain. Though there is occasional humour to leaven the grim circumstances of these lives, it remains true to the characters and the reality of their situation. A situation not exclusive to the characters in this film.

It’s not easy going, not by any stretch. But then, why should it be?

In an isolated community in the Northern Territory, Samson (Rowan McNamara) wakes up, sniffs petrol for a while, rubs his head then gets up and wanders around. He has nothing to do all day. The isolated community is so small that it probably consists of about 5 shacks, a shack church and a shop. Heat vibrates off everything. A communal phone rings and rings, but no-one answers it.

Rating:

City of God (Cidade de Deus)

dir: Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund
[img_assist|nid=1058|title=The kids are most certainly not all right|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=400|height=532]
What a fantastic, fiery, raucous flick. Brazilian cinema has come into its own and is now its own exportable genre because of City of God. I’m sure they were making films for decades before this, but this flick blew a lot of people away and made them start noticing a great kind of cinema from a previously unheard region.

Since then, the Brazilian flicks that have been appearing at my local arthouse cinema and on the shelves of my local vid store are all united by common threads: they’re based on true stories, they centre around crime and poverty, and they’re about larger than life characters living in cities so extreme as to almost seem like science fiction. But they exist. They’re real. The slum called City of God, or Cidade de Deus in their native Portuguese tongue, is a real place. They didn’t have to build sets, hire extras and dress them in costumes, or make anything up.

Of course this isn’t a documentary, don’t get me wrong. But it’s a pretty real film about a real life lived by millions in the most prosperous country in Latin America.

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Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no kamikushi)

dir: Hayao Miyazaki
[img_assist|nid=1072|title=Chihiro, my hero|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=381]

The great difficulty in reviewing one of Miyazaki’s animated movies, compared to just watching them, is that the temptation to reel off superlative after superlative usually proves too great for the humble reviewer. Also, Miyazaki is revered to such a degree as the reincarnated Japanese alternate reality Walt Disney that everything he touches is tainted with greatness in the eyes of reviewers, humble or not.

The high praise makes latecomers come to his films with an insane level of expectation, which usually results in bewilderment when they see something like this, Princess Mononoke or My Neighbour Totoro which are different but simpler stories than what they could have expected.

Well, I’m neither a worshipper nor much of a reviewer, so it’s as easy for me to reel off expletives and superlatives as it is to watch one of his flicks and to sit there, thrilled out of my goddamn mind.

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Fellowship of the Ring

dir: Peter Jackson
[img_assist|nid=1071|title=...and in the darkness bind them|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=256|height=251]

I don't think that there's been a film quite like it, to be honest, realised on such a scale, and so lovingly. Such attention to detail, such awe-inspiring design and creativity, I almost cannot believe that such a film was
allowed to be made in the current culture of big budget film making, where the shoddy special effect is king, and inspiration and inventiveness are as alien as the concept of personal hygiene is amongst users of public transport.

Having not read any of the works of JRR Tolkien, I could potentially be at a disadvantage in discussing the source material and its transition to the big screen. What I am qualified to mention is that it is patently obvious that Tolkien has been ripped off by nearly every fantasy writer and filmmaker for the last sixty years. And perhaps they can be accused of interfering with his desiccated remains in a truly unwholesome manner in the pursuit of financial gain or sex with strange women. The same accusation cannot, I feel, be leveled at Peter Jackson, who has approached the characters and the story with such an obvious love for the source material, and an exhausting amount of dedication and creativity that more than justifies the entire venture, despite the staggering amount of merchandising.

Rating:

On the Waterfront

On the Waterfront

When he was a young god...

dir: Elia Kazan

1954

It’s a bloody shame that possessing too much knowledge makes it impossible to just talk about a great film and call it a great film. Either that, or you can put it down to arrogance, pretentiousness, or affected hipsterism. Whichever and whatever combination thereof that I’m afflicted with, I’m too aware of the history behind this picture to be able to blithely review it like it’s just any film.

Sure, it’s a film like any other. Although, it won a bunch of Academy awards, and it contains one of the greatest performances by Marlon Brando that you’ll ever see. And it casts a mournful eye over the waterfront upon which it is set, and the cowardice, greed and cruelty that conspires to render good men either dead or useless at the hands of a corrupt union.

And it’s directed by a man who made some great films, like this, Streetcar Named Desire, A Face in the Crowd, Splendor in the Grass, and Gentleman’s Agreement; films which I’m sure all the kids of today are big fans of and love to hear quoted in the latest emo and rap songs illegally downloaded onto their iPods.

But Elia Kazan also named names during the Communist witch hunt era, lending credibility and legitimacy to a process that should never have possessed a skerrick of either, and continued to work and live a happy, productive life after condemning others to blacklisting and misery.

For a man who received plenty of awards during his life, perhaps it might strike some as strange that he required honouring at the 2003 Oscars with a lifetime achievement award, where many of the crowd refused to applaud or even stand for him. Talented director, traitorous fiend, or both?

Rating:

Nine Queens

Nueve Reinas

If they're looking down on you, then you know you're fucked

(Spanish title Nueve Reinas)

dir: Fabian Bielinsky

Of all the films about grifters, con artists, and other tricksters trying to separate honest and dishonest folk from their hard-earned cash, Nine Queens ranks as one of my favourites, my absolute favourites.

Films about scams are amongst the most enjoyable and disposable of films. They’re enjoyable because the wool being pulled over the eyes of characters onscreen is often also being pulled over our eyes as well. And it can be enjoyable or aggravating, but I usually find it interesting.

But once you know the score, what the scam is and its end result, watching them again is often fruitless. And since they tend to be about energy and momentum, there isn’t the level of characterisation or narrative depth that might bring you back a second time. Nine Queens is a bit better than that.

Coming from Argentina at the time that it did, Nine Queens put a unique spin on the grifter genre by having the machinations of the plot, the morality of its characters and the climax be dependent upon real-life situations in the country, which faced financial collapse and economic ruin at the time. All of the Argentinean films I’ve seen since then have also had the nation’s economic woes front and centre in their plots (the documentary The Take, Live-In Maid).

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My Father's Glory & My Mother's Castle (La Gloire de mon pere, Le Chateau de ma mere)

My Father's Glory

Knickerbockers and pinafores akimbo

dir: Yves Robert

1990

These two films are really one big film, in the same way that Jean de Florette and Manon de Sources are really one long film. In common with those other flicks, these are also set in the same area of France, being Provence. More intimately, they also share the same author, being Marcel Pagnol.

In this instance, these movies are based on Pagnol’s own life in the early part of the 20th century, in Marseilles and the hills nearby. As such, since real life rarely has the dramatic consistency and neatness of well-written drama, these flicks have a very different dynamic to the masterpieces that start with Jean de Florette. They share the same lush visuals, having been filmed in the same region, but completely different stories, themes, ideas and resolutions.

In some ways, enjoyable ways, My Father’s Glory is one of the truly most bourgeois films ever committed to celluloid. It focuses on the low-key meanderings of a family from 1900 onwards, seen through the eyes of the eldest son Marcel (Julien Ciamaca). That shouldn’t be seen as a criticism, just a description of the time, the place and the family involved.

The patriarch of the family, Joseph (Phillipe Caubere) is a school teacher, and mostly a decent and humble man. He’s not much of a drinker, gambler or wifebeater, which is just lovely. His wife Augustine (Nathalie Roussell) is happy to devote herself to doting on him and their ever-expanding family. She wears frilly outfits and makes enough food to serve an army and never complains about anything, ever, the blessed saint.

Augustine has a spinster sister Rose (Therese Liotard), who won’t be a spinster for long, at least if Marcel has anything to do with it. She becomes attached to a fat bastard called Jules (Didier Pain), who irks patriarchal secular humanist Joseph because he’s a religious man. Through Uncle Jules the families get access to a house in the hilly region between Aubergne and Aix. And thus begins the main character’s love affair with the region.

As a child, Marcel is fairly happy-go-lucky, but, being a child, and a French child at that, he has concerns, hopes, fears and more fears about stuff that wouldn’t cross most of our minds. The Glory of the title comes from the son’s obsession, an understandable one, with having his dad be the big man in front of his new uncle. If anything, the son develops a pathological fixation on his father’s status in this alpha dog eat beta dog society.

The arid hills open up, for all the members of the families, a new vista on life, and as the film’s progress, they spend more and more time in the region, as if the working week is in retreat, and their real life now occurs during the holidays.

Marcel makes friends with a local hillbilly kid, Lili (Joris Molinas), who, despite the name, is a boy. Lili and Marcel bond, and Lili teaches Marcel all about the mountain life, though there are no Deliverance-type elements in the offing.

He teaches him about setting traps for birds (Lili makes his living from poaching), the locations for natural springs (which the hick locals jealously guard), and just to appreciate the place for what it is.

Seeing as they don’t have televisions yet due to their not having been invented, the various peoples need hobbies. The womenfolk are perpetually busy preparing food all the time, so they’re looked after, but the men folk need games like lawn bowls and hunting to keep themselves amused. Uncle Jules makes mention of the game available in the region, and refers almost mystically to the bartavelle: the king of partridges. Joseph and Uncle Jules are going out for some fun. To Marcel it becomes a battle for life and death.

Rating:

Mirror (Zerkalo)

Zerkalo

I have no idea what's going on here either

dir: Andrei Tarkovsky

1975

On the back of my last Tarkovsky review, which was ye oldie Russkie version of Solaris, which I didn’t like, I watched the next film in his catalogue, which was the semi-auto-partly biographical Mirror.

And I was pretty impressed. The funniest thing is that I could just as easily say the same kinds of things I said in the Solaris review, but here those points are positives and enhance the film, such as it is.

As to what exactly the film is about, I’ve got close to fuck-all idea. Honestly, it’s about everything and nothing at the same time. It’s a tribute to his father and mother and a dreamlike, nostalgic re-rendering of Tarkovsky’s childhood and adulthood and there’s some Spanish people in there and the conflict between a husband who abandons his family after the war who is then young and being trained incompetently in the war and then the mother is someone’s girlfriend instead and and and…

I’ve got no idea. Tarkovky’s father’s poetry makes some appearances, and he was a famous and respected writer in his time, so maybe its purpose (since it’s dedicated to him) is to honour him. Tarkvosky’s younger sister Marina has stated on the record that Tarkovsky used many snaps from the family photo albums to summon up much of the incredible imagery and scenes in this non-linear, multi-dimensional, chaotically coherent film.

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