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6 stars

Upstream Color

Upstream Color

It's important to feel safe

dir: Shane Carruth

What a freaky film. It’s probably the strangest film I’ve seen this year. It’s probably the strangest film I’ll see all year. There are six months to go, so, who knows?

It will be very hard to give a synopsis of this flick in a coherent way that will give a sense of what it was like to watch this movie. A few films are good, a lot of flicks are mediocre, but very few films deliberately avoid pandering to an audience by being very hard to understand and aggressively difficult to watch. This, from the same guy who made the low-key low-budget time travel flick Primer, is just such a concoction.

Most flicks, with the business model/logic behind them that generates them, go out of their way to be as easily consumable as possible. Upstream Color doesn’t seem to want to go the easy route, or to really be understood or explained in the way most flicks seem to work. At least that's what I think happened. For all I know, it makes perfect sense, and I'm way too thick to make sense of it, because I'm clearly not a genius.

It’s also aggressively edited as well, and I don’t mean in the way that a Michael Bay movie or one of the Bourne movies will be over-edited to stop you from realising how deeply stupid the plot or action of such a flick is. The purpose here seems to be to keep you unsettled, deeply unsettled.

Rating:

Gayby

Gayby

Everyone's pretty in comic-book form

dir: Jonathan Lisecki

It was either this or The Hobbit, and I didn’t really want to review The Hobbit, so, here goes.

I know this sounds like a parody of a movie, like a joke trailer within a Tropic Thunder-like satire which would inevitably star Jack Black as the giant Gayby, but Gayby is a real film, in the sense that it’s not a joke and that it has actors in it, and it runs for nearly an hour and a half, the length God always intended all films to run.

Gayby covers the babymaking misadventures of a bunch of people, but mostly those of straight Jenn (Jenn Harris) and her best friend Matt (Matthew Wilkas) who happens to be gay. The adventure they want to go on involves the creation and raising of a baby, hence the portmanteau title of Gay + Baby = Gayby. How they know the baby is going to be gay is never explained, but I’m sure it’s not really relevant.

Mostly the flick, which trades on the apparently very real phenomena of lots of gay people trading their various bits of DNA, with or without turkey basters, in order to help each other have lots and lots of babies in Brooklyn, and probably lots of other places, is about whether Jenn and Matt will stay friends. That’s really what’s at stake, because the baby is kind of the participant’s award everyone gets just for competing.

Rating:

Promised Land

Promised Land

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

dir: Gus Van Sant

Humans are by their very natures perverse creatures. We want what we don't have and forget why we wanted it so desperately once we get it.

I could go on giving you examples of the strangeness that is our legacy, as if you weren't ever aware that people were like this, but the reason why I'm even bringing this up is because this flick had a strange effect on me.

There's barely anyone on the planet that would disagree that this flick is anti-fracking propaganda. I doubt the director Van Sant or Matt Damon or Frances McDormand would be surprised by any of this. It's a position, a stance, an opinion that I basically share. The people in this flick, patiently building their straw men for the purpose of knocking them down, are saying something that I, a person who doesn't trust corporations or governments to do what's right by the people until they're forced to, basically agree with.

I don't particularly love "the environment", but I know a few people that do, and since I consider 'the environment' to be that place where I live (ie. the Earth), I lean towards not completely wrecking the place, or using the way Nature was dressed as an excuse for despoiling it.

The net effect, however, of watching a flick like this is that it makes me think, "jeez, maybe fracking isn't that bad after all."

Rating:

Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina

Could you smell my finger, please? There's a dear

dir: Joe Wright

There's some virtue to having modest ambitions. When confronted with the prospect of converting Leo Tolstoy's weighty tome into a movie, many have faltered, most have failed, and none have got it right. The book's way too big. It's also on too much of a pedestal for it to come out right to everyone's satisfaction.

Also, where some would obsess with verisimilitude, with period accuracy and historical detail, Joe Wright and the producers here have elected for a way to illuminate the story without having to get dragged into a genuine Russian winter. I mean, it destroyed Napoleon's army, it destroyed the Nazis, so what hope would petty film producers have?

Mother Russia, or at least the time and place of it relevant to this story set before the Revolution, is created for us on a stage. At least, all or most of the story seems to transpire within the confines of a massive old Russian theatre. It's deliberately artificial, as in, they're not trying to hide the fact that it's an inventive and elaborate pantomime. I doubt this approach was budgetary. I mean, I have no idea. Maybe it was cheaper to do it this way, but it doesn't seem likely. Setting up all these elaborate sets on a sound stage so that it looks like it's in on an actual stage is just as expensive as making it look like it's in outer space or in the White House.

Rating:

Flight

Flight

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

dir: Robert Zemeckis

It’s enough to put you off flying for ever. Or drinking. Or drinking while flying forever.

This is a strange flick, with strange rhythms and strange themes. It seems like it’s going to be about one thing (a tremendous plane crash), and it ends up being about something completely different (alcohol addiction). Even then, it seems like it’s going to be more about what an unrepentant arsehole the main character is, ably played as always by Denzel Washington, than any kind of redemption, and then it shifts again.

I wouldn’t say the shifts in tone and purpose confounded me or surprised me, but the truth is they didn’t leave me any the wiser about anything inside this film or out of it.

As the film begins, a grumpy middle-aged man awakes, but not before we see his naked bed partner go through her morning routine. The routine involves finishing off last night’s booze, taking a few puffs of the chronic, and bumping a few rails of cocaine.

That sort of behaviour is all well and good for rockstars, primary school teachers and televangelists, but we see with shock and horror that this chap with this morning regimen is a pilot about to fly a plane. And the guy is still drinking, even as he’s flying!

Rating:

Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook

Crazy people shouldn't breed. These crazy people
shouldn't breed

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.

Rating:

The Sapphires

The Sapphires

Sapphires by name, priceless by nature

dir: Wayne Blair

Obscure bits of people’s histories: It’s almost like they happened just to give filmmakers something to make movies about.

I don’t need to be told that this flick is based on a true story, or that it varies significantly from the truthful aspects of the ‘true story’. What matters to me, in this instance, isn’t verisimilitude, it’s entertainment. Australian flicks generally aren’t ever going to be able to get budgets to make something credibly ‘period-piece’ unless it just involves a bunch of people sitting indoors with doilies everywhere and archival stock footage akimbo.

When they do get a huge budget, you get unwatchable crap like Baz Luhrman’s Australia, which was a national disgrace and a true blight upon our history.

Maybe we’re better off with small budgets in that case. I’m sure this flick used its budget well. It looks nice enough, everything’s well shot and in focus, and they had enough money for the music rights to some nice golden oldies from the era. And I hope everyone got paid reasonably well, and that the catering was choice.

Rating:

The Master

The Master

Strange people doing strange stuff to and for each other

dir: Paul Thomas Anderson

I think Paul Thomas Anderson makes the weirdest Oscarbait films in the whole world. Even more so than obscure Mongolian yak herders turned filmmakers and all of France. The Master is another strange film, with a goofy ending, to add to the pile of strange films this man puts out there into the world, for our adulation and confusion.

For years leading up to its release, I kept hearing that The Master was going to be an expose on the creator of Scientology and the whole stinking cult itself. Then publicists and such backtracked those comments, fearful of incurring the wrath of the Church and its powerful devotees, you know, people like John Travolta, Tom Cruise and Will Smith. Who wants those angry, frightening people pissed off with you?

Having watched the film now, I mean, obviously, since I’m reviewing it, I am none the wiser. I mean the so-called Master of the title is played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, that great pink honey glazed ham of an actor, and he’s called Lancaster Dodd. Lancaster Dodd isn’t the same as L. Ron Hubbard, is it, but there are enough consonants in common to give it some kind of commonality.

Rating:

Hope Springs

Hope Springs

Just get a goddamn divorce already

dir: David Frankel

Ye gods and little fishes, if there was one message, one singular plea this film seems to be making to us in the audience, it would be thus; like the words of the ancient Queen Elizabeth to the young Orlando in the film of the same name: "Do not wither, do not grow old".

But what choice do we have? No tablet, no serum, no surgery, nothing spares us from the entrenchment of our own awful habits and the miserly ways this film alleges we inevitably fall prey to, far beyond what age naturally and lovingly does to our physical forms.

See, that I can take. The falling apart of the body doesn’t frighten me, since I’ve been falling apart like a rusty cyborg with leprosy for, oh, simply ages now. I expect it just gets easier from here on in, and if I’m wrong, please have the decency not to tell me about it. It’s the emotional ossification, the hardening of one’s life into an unvarying repetitive routine that I find truly terrifying.

Rating:

Bachelorette

Bachelorette

Don't make eye contact, don't get their attention

dir: Leslye Headland

Nasty.

You might think that this is a bandwagon-jumping exercise, trying to capitalise on the success of Bridesmaids, but it doesn’t really feel like that, especially since so much time has passed. People have moved on. This is based on a play, written by the woman who directs here as well, so obviously it predates Bridesmaids, and it’s classy art, baby. I mean, surely all movies based on plays have class up the wazoo?

Obviously, it has plenty more in common with Bridesmaids. It has a mostly female cast, it’s meant to be a comedy, it somewhat focuses on a character who resents her female friend for getting married before her, and some foul stuff happens along the way.

The similarities pretty much end there. I had significant issues with Bridesmaids, in that I felt the characters were blah and the dynamics they were mining for alleged comedy gold were regressive and fairly sexist. But, put simplistically, I couldn’t fault it in terms of delivering what it promised: it was a comedy structured like a comedy giving the ladies what they wanted.

Rating:

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