dir: Sally Porter
I have loved Sally Potter for a long time, all because of Orlando, from so long ago that it barely warrants repeating.
No, that's not a prelude to me spending most of this review talking about a different film, something I often do. Most of her other films since then haven't really impacted upon me to any level similar to what I got from Orlando, a level of connection that haunts me to this day.
Ginger and Rosa is no different, in that it didn't really dazzle me or resonate deeply with me, but it's still a decent film. It's very modest in its scope, somewhat lacking in ambition, but that gives it plenty of opportunity to focus entirely upon one character almost to the exclusion of all others. It's also another opportunity for Elle Fanning to show what an accomplished actress she is at such a young age.
Two mothers give birth in a London delivery room. They clasp hands without knowing the other, needing the comfort of someone else going through something transformative. They forge a link, and their born daughters are linked too, closer than sisters and bonded beyond reason. Yeah, they're the one's in the title.
Ginger (Elle Fanning) has bright red hair like her mother Natalie (Christina Hendricks), and the same anaemic super-pale skin. Rosa (Alice Englert) is pale but dark-haired, and from a Russian background. They're not twins, or spiritual twins or anything, despite their tendency to wear the same clothing and go everywhere together. They're enmeshed, though. You get this feeling of gestalt, of two people so intertwined that they don't always know where one starts and the other ends. This rarely ends up being a healthy thing in movies. Usually ends up with someone's mum being murdered with a brick.
dir: Martin McDonagh
When I write reviews about movies, I find it slightly pointless to include info that’s readily available on the tubes of the internets. There’s no point replicating the services that Wikipedia or IMDb provide, so I don’t bother including a lot of “actually, you may be interested to know that while this film was being made, the director was sleeping with the sister of the lead actor, who in turn was snorting the cremation ashes of Charlie Chaplin off the lower back of Rita Hayworth’s great-great-grand niece” type stuff.
It would be pointless, I think you’d agree. My personal take on these movies is the only thing I have to contribute in this world, and it’s not the perspective of an insider or an expert, just a shmuck fanboy. You can guess what that’s worth.
What I’m getting at is this: I could easily look up what the actual circumstances of the writing and production of this flick were. I could find out from the horses or whorses’ mouths almost instantly. And I could include that here. But what would be the point of that? Such knowledge wasn’t with me at the time when I was watching this deliriously insane flick, so it didn’t inform my enjoyment of it. So what would the point of talking about the ‘truth’ be?
Instead, I’ll relate what I was thinking about when I was watching it instead.
Martin McDonagh came to international acclaim after In Bruges came out. I don’t think it was hellishly successful financially, as in it didn’t make billions at the box office, but for a time, for months it seemed, a whole bunch of people were talking about it. His skills probably in order of importance or expertise started with and grew from: being a successful playwright, writing some screenplays, and thence to directing.
With success, modest or otherwise, come strange riches and stranger opportunities. Someone must have said to him, here’s several million dollars, come to LA and write whatever you want, no strings, promise.
You get to LA, you start trying to write that screenplay, you hit the bottle, and the writer’s block and the pressure to write something brilliant as before but different enough to not be accused of complacency completely destroys you.
That’s when you, and by ‘you’ I mean Martin McDonagh, resort to the saddest and most pathetic cliché in the screenwriter’s bag o’tricks: if it was good enough for Barton Fink and Adaptation, then why not Seven Psychopaths?
You, an alcoholic Irish screenwriter and director, write a screenplay about an alcoholic Irish screenwriter and director who’s writing and drinking aren’t getting him anywhere as he works on a stillborn screenplay.
The resulting utter mess, and it is a mess, is Seven Psychopaths. They say that certain difficult processes can be as impossible and fruitless as trying to herd a clowder of cats. Well, imagine herding those cats as they sit on the shoulders of a bunch of psychopaths with their own contradictory, mutually exclusive storylines, and a deliberate desire to avoid and celebrate a lot of violent movie clichés, and then you have an even better idea of what a mess this is.
I haven’t decided yet whether it’s a glorious mess or not, and I’m not sure if I’ll know at the end either.
dir: Kathryn Bigelow
Torture is awesome! Who knew?!?
Obviously it’s not as wonderful to the people it happens to, but, for the rest of us, it works beautifully. It’s effective. It’s necessary. It’s entertaining. It’s awesome.
Zero Dark Thirty is less about the hunting down of Bin Laden like the dog that he was, than it is about how one woman’s, and the CIA’s, determination to do anything including torture to get him (and her capacity for overacting) are the only reasons they ever found the fucker.
First, we have to endure a lengthy justification for the torture, in the form of audio recordings of soon-to-be victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Talk about moral blackmail. The film is practically daring you to disagree that any actions taken by the US and its allies after that dread day were so utterly justifiable that you deserve to be shot out of a cannon if you think otherwise.
We meet Maya (Jessica Chastain) as she watches a torture session, with rough justice being meted out by some other CIA guy (Australia’s Own Jason Clarke). He’s really good at his work, but he doesn’t love doing it. We get the clear impression that he’s not a sadist, that he doesn’t “like” what he’s doing, but he sees the sadly necessary utility of it. Poor diddums.
He’s so good at it, though. These Al-Qaeda shmucks don’t really stand a chance against all the beatings, water-boardings, genital mockings and uses of small boxes for accommodation.
Is it torture? Is it ever. Wherefore the quibbling over the difference between torture and ‘enhanced interrogation’? Sure, our red-headed protagonist acts like she’s not a fan of these procedures, but her determination to find a link to OBL cannot be diluted or assuaged. I’m surprised they don’t have a scene where she twists a guy’s nuts in her steely grip herself, instead of delegating. Sometimes these things require a personal touch.
These scenes are hard to watch, for me. It’s not because I put myself into the positions of either the torturer or the tortured, or empathise with their struggles with conscience or with the trauma that’s dissolving their psyches. I watch stuff like this and wonder what it says about a nation and its allies that they condone and justify it, grudgingly or otherwise.
My main objection would seem to be; isn’t it the kind of thing the dreaded and hated Other would seem to be most keen on, and not Us? If We are doing stuff as ugly and dehumanising as this existential, abstract enemy seems to do without qualms, where’s the moral superiority? Where’s the goodness, the humanity, the acknowledgement that that ends don’t justify means? I thought we’d left this utilitarian shit back in the 19th Century, along with the corsets, cholera and leeches.
To the flick’s credit it at least acknowledges that all that’s happening is wrong. It shows us so-called ‘black sites’ and tells us they’re black sites. It doesn’t explain what a black site is to an uninformed viewer, but, hell, it’s not hard to figure out.
They’re conducting their gentle fact finding missions in places and in countries where torture is commonplace and not frowned upon, in fact it’s celebrated and applauded. It gives them the plausible deniability to say that they’re not breaking American laws on American soil.
Just, you know, they’re also saying fuck you Geneva Convention and all that.
dir: Steven Spielberg
You know, I never thought Spielberg had the balls to do something like this, but he did, and audiences never really punished him for it. He’s taken the most iconic, the most universally admired US President (except in the South, perhaps) and depicted him as a crushing, tedious bore, and people are applauding him for it, and lavishing Daniel Day-Lewis with unending praise and statuettes.
Good for them, I guess. The thing is, I don’t even think it was subtle at all. He actively has characters respond with exasperation whenever Lincoln spins another yarn, while every other person sighs and maintains their steeliest “have to look enraptured for the boss” facial expression. People are active, working, doing stuff, usually arguing before he mutters some kind of non sequitur “It wasn’t like this back when I was splitting rails on the Tallahatchie trail”. Then everyone freezes, and we get the feeling that inwardly, they’re dying a little, and fighting the urge to run and hide in a dark, close place, or cry.
“Please, oh please let it be a short anecdote. Please don’t let this story go on so long that I chew my own leg off to escape. Please let his tongue have a stroke, even if he is the single Greatest Statesman and Raconteur the world has ever known.”
Lincoln will deliver his folksy little anecdote or parable, and, quite often, people will go back to what they were doing as if their relief that they can go on with their lives is palpable, measurable, marketable.
But you can’t ignore such a towering figure, especially when he has such a transformative plan for America. The screenplay is by Tony Kushner, who’s a pretty impressive writer, and has scripted some of the better recent Spielbergo ‘experiences’. He uses a bunch of sources, some credited, some not, but the main credited source is meant to be Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, a good book I’ve actually read but don’t really remember that well. The film is an excellent reminder of one of those moments in history where something completely obvious and fundamental (that people can’t be property) became enshrined into law, thus making a whole bunch of white folks feel good about themselves for a while.
dir: Sam Fell and Chris Butler
Mistakes, grand follies, profound errors of judgement… I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life. That should be patently obvious to you by now. Most of them I deeply regret, some of them I don’t, but it’s safe to say that mistakes and bad decisions seem to define parts of my life far better than any decent choices I’ve ever made.
What am I nattering on about? Well, let’s just say that since I became a parent, all my bad decisions tend to revolve around parenting. The propensity for making mistakes, if you’re going to survive for any length of time in this life, has to be counterbalanced by having some capacity to learn from those mistakes, and to not repeat them throughout the generations.
That is one of my only virtues, in that hopefully I don’t make the same mistakes too often before learning “Fire? Hot!!!” after burning some fingers fourteen, fifteen times.
The mistake I made in relation to this movie is that when your five-year-old daughter says to you, after watching the trailer for ParaNorman in front of Rise of the Guardians, “Daddy, I really want to see ParaNorman!”, you exercise good judgement and say, “Darling-heart, apple of my eye, daughter and only heir, you’re too young for that movie, maybe when you’re a bit older.” You don’t think about it for a few seconds, belch out some popcorn, and then mutter “Sure.”
You also, a while later, don’t actually let her watch ParaNorman, because a rating of PG doesn’t always mean, “Don’t worry about it, the kids will be fine”; it can mean “This shit will give them nightmares. Nightmares!”
Look, I know I stuffed up. All the ponies in the world aren’t going to fix this one. Oh well, I guess I should start saving some money every week to afford the therapy she’ll doubtless need in time…
ParaNorman is made by the same awesome group of lovely creatives (calling themselves Laika) who brought the world the animated goodness that was Coraline. It uses plenty of CGI animation, but it beautifully and expressively uses a lot of stop-motion (as in physical, solid) 3D animation in a very enjoyable fashion.
The story is a tad macabre for the littlies, seeing as it all hinges on the MURDER OF A CHILD BY A BUNCH OF PURITAN FANATICS! Honestly, if I’d known… well I probably would have let her watch it anyway. The Norman of the title (voiced by Australia’s Own Kodi Smitt-McPhee) is a glum little chap with straight-up pointing hair and large swath eyebrows that perpetually signpost his disgruntlement with this unfair world. He has a gift, but the world around him punishes him for it, and rightly so. If someone tells you they speak to dead people, and the dead speak back to them, shouldn’t we all just say “Ooooooh-kay? and back away politely?
dir: Quentin Tarantino
So, saviour of humanity that he is, using the magic of cinema to correct or at least exact retribution for the crimes of the past, Tarantino does for the slaves in Django Unchained what he did for the Jews in Inglourious Basterds: he gets historical revisionist revenge, REVENGE!
I don’t know how much moral or philosophical thinking goes into what he does, but Tarantino doesn’t really strike me as a director who has an agenda beyond making films that look like and reference other films. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I’ve enjoyed so many of his films (to wildly different degrees) that to criticise Tarantino for what he doesn’t do (come up with entirely and wholly new themes, aesthetics and plots/stories) ignores what he does do (makes entertaining and sometimes hellishly funny films).
With Django Unchained it’s an even thornier proposition. Sure, it’s entertaining, but I can see how the criticism of trivialising the legacy of slavery in the US is a theoretically valid one. It raises the hackles of the kinds of hackle-ready outrage merchants who thought getting a wholly symbolic and fantastical revenge on Hitler and his high ranking scumbags trivialised the Holocaust in his earlier film.
Both sets of complainants (they’re very different groups with similar modus operandi) would be wrong, but I can respect where they’re coming from. Sure, they’re entitled to their shitty opinions, just like I am, and just like Tarantino is, and they deserve to be heard, and then supported, dismissed or ridiculed as the case may be.
What that claim ignores in this instance is the fact that the mechanics, the infrastructure of slavery, and its abject inhuman cruelty are front and centre in the story. The reason I think a fair few commentators of the conservative variety Stateside have criticised the flick is not for its incredibly over the top violence, or just for the incredibly frequent use of the word “nigger”, but because they don’t like it when mass audiences are reminded of just what building their great nation entailed.
Oh, it was a brutal time in American history. Brutal and incredibly sadistic, and the flick never shies away from depicting, in exaggerated forms, just how horrible and pervasive this institutionalised misery was across the great nation before the Great Emancipator came along and freed everyone and made everything better for ever more.
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: Peter Ramsay
Many, many years ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a galaxy just like this one except it smelled a little bit like juniper berries, I watched a film at a mysterious place called a cinema. That film was called The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Yeah, I knew it was Christian propaganda going into it. Yeah, I knew it couldn’t really be that great, considering the source material. But it did have Tilda Swinton in a key role, and that’s almost enough for me to justify watching any flick.
In this movie were four kids going on adventures. Three of the kids were painful to listen to and even more painful to watch trying to act. I didn’t mind it too much, this being a childish fantasy, after all, and one of the first books I can remember reading all on my own.
The moment that had me standing up in fury and yelling at the screen as if the actors themselves could hear me, and the director, the assistant directors and their assistants could hear me too, was the moment where Santa Claus comes out of nowhere and gives the kids all the tools they’ll need to beat the evil Snow Queen.
I screamed “Oh come on! It isn’t ludicrously far-fetched enough already, you’ve got to drop that fat fuck Father Christmas on us as well? Give us a goddamn break!”
This flick here, Rise of the Guardians, doesn’t play ‘hide-the-Santa’ on us for an unpleasant surprise; he’s there right from the start. Only you can decide whether it makes something unbelievable untenable as entertainment, like it did for me with that Narnia flick, or whether your deep love of Christmas makes anything with Santa in it immediately better.
This is, pretty much, The Avengers for the under 10 set. Any kid older than that probably downloaded illegally a copy of Avengers onto their iPad and was watching it before their grandparents ever tried and failed to be all contemporary and with-it by saying “Oh, yes, The Avengers, didn’t Patrick Macnee pull off the bowler hat and umbrella combination rakishly, and that Diana Rigg as Mrs Peel? Rawr!”
dir: Zal Batmanglij
Listen to the soothing sound of my sinuous voice, and I’ll release you from all your troubles, bring you to a new holy place of pure salvation, where bliss reigns supreme and all your mistakes are washed clean… all I need is for you to listen to my voice, obey my every command, and give me all your credit card numbers…
This film is a complete out-of-nowhere thing for me, a flick I knew nothing about prior to watching. It has a tiny budget, and consists mostly of footage shot in the confines of some LA basement.
It’s really well done, for what it is, and what it is, is a story about two people who infiltrate a cult, with the intention of exposing it to the world, or at least to the other freaks in LA. Peter (Christopher Denham) is the driving force behind this, wanting to go all the way to be a journalist, perpetrating some serious undercover journalism with these people. He’s even gone to all the trouble to learn their very jive-turkey secret handshake from the 70s, which takes about fifteen minutes to do properly.
His girlfriend Lorna (Nicole Vicius) is also along for the ride. It’s never explicitly stated, but I guess it’s always easier to get into a cult if you bring an attractive woman along with you, the rules being the same for swingers parties, presumably. She doesn’t seem to be as driven as Peter is. I assumed from the start that Peter had some other personal connection to busting cults, as in, because of spending time perhaps as a Scientologist or in the Movementarians - We love the Leader! - but his need could be something more basic, more primal.
When the flick begins, Peter and Lorna are treated like plague victims or security threats: they arrive at some strange place and are searched, stripped, made to shower and put on gowns, handcuffed, blindfolded, and driven in secret to some place. All the received at first was a phonecall, a voice telling them what to do. Yes, the Sound of someone’s Voice. After Peter does the handshake, the atmosphere seems to become more relaxed, and then they are in the presence of Maggie (Brit Marling), a blonde woman in a gown in LA, which must be a rarity. She’s also trailing an oxygen cylinder, so we know something’s not completely right about her.
It’s not too much of a spoiler, I think, since it comes right at the beginning, that this cult is based on two things, and two things mostly: it’s entirely centred around Maggie, and, Maggie’s authority doesn’t derive solely from just being Maggie; it’s comes from her claim that she’s from the future. The Future!
dir: Mike Birbiglia
We’ve all got to start somewhere.
This is a curious movie, in that it’s directed by a chap who’s playing himself (under a pseudonym), essentially in a re-enactment of his own life, surrounded by actors. Mike becomes Matt, Birbiglia becomes Pandamiglio, in a pointless charade that’s never intended to shade the truth, or ‘truth’, as the case may be, that This is His Life!
Birbiglia has been dining out on this story for years, and has managed to transform it into the substance of his stand-up (he’s a comedian, in case you didn’t know), a one-man stage show, a book and now a film. I’ve been hearing this story for years, as he’s honed it down to its sharpest edge, from watching Matt doing his routine, hearing it on my iPod and through multiple podcasts essentially saying the same words verbatim. I never tire of the story.
Most of all, I’ve heard excerpts of the story on podcasts from This American Life, probably my favourite of the twenty or so podcasts I listen to with religious, if not disturbing, regularity. It’s a podcast that is the new media version of the radio program from Chicago Public Radio produced by Ira Glass (who of course gets a cameo in this film, as a photographer at Mike–Matt’s sister’s wedding). So it comes as no surprise that they, being WBEZ Chicago and IFC, chipped money in to let Mike transform his multi-format extravaganza into a movie.
This is probably the last version of it, you’d think, until holograms come along. The thing is, or the thing that will seem fairly weird to someone who knows nothing of Birbiglia or his tale is that the story he’s been mining for laughs for close to a decade is a very unique story, a very small story. It only happened to Mike, and no-one else, but, in the telling, like for any decent storyteller, he’s woven it into the fabric of his life at the time and crafted it so it says something more than just about the occurrence itself.
dir: Jason Moore
I like pleasant surprises. Well, duh. What person out of the 7 billion who grace this planet with their presence doesn’t?
It’s the unpleasant surprises we are not partial to. The lump in a bodily location where lumpiness should just not be. The realisation, post bending-over, that one’s pants have achieved a new configuration, including a vast gap where seams should reign supreme. Waking up to find someone, at this happy time of the year, actually dressed as Santa Claus, breathing heavily, in your bedroom, going through your stuff, stinking strongly of meth.
All unpleasant, all unwanted, all unappreciated. Pleasant surprises are far rarer, but much more enjoyable. I enjoyed Pitch Perfect despite the fact that I absolutely should hate a movie like this, any movie like this. After all, it features singing, and is as much a product of the current pop cultural obsession with Glee, American Idol and shit of that ilk.
It’s also so twee-ly American, it’s set in college, it’s structured like a sports film, and it has montages galore.
So how could I like this? How could I have enjoyed a single second of this entire farcical deal? Well, I don’t have to explain myself to you. I just enjoyed it. That’s it. End of story.
Okay, honestly, I realise I do have to justify myself to you, each and every time. In fact, if I don’t justify my opinions each and every time I write something, then surely my reviews would be even more worthless than I suspect they are. If I can’t nut out whatever kernels of goodness exist in the morass of movies, or the dark seams of stupidity, cupidity and evilness that permeate everything else, then I’m not really satisfying the dictates of my heaven-ordained vocation.
dir: Sam Mendes
It’s a decent enough film, it’s just that I’m not sure how much of a Bond film it is, and that’s something I’m ambivalent about.
The tone of the flick is also fairly grim, fairly dour. It even spends a fair amount of time on the northern highlands of Scotland, which is the grimmest, dourest place on the planet.
After fifty years of these movies, I guess they needed to do something substantially different, radically different despite the window dressing. Skyfall is steeped in Bond lore, and far more grounded than the usual Bond film. When I say ‘grounded’, I don’t mean realistic, or that it’s being punished for breaking curfew. What I mean is that excluding the high energy pre-credits introduction, the rest of the flick mostly avoids the elaborate stunts and absurd gadgetry-inspired last minute escapes that James Bond is renowned for. Mostly, it shows our ‘damaged’ protagonist plodding through the plot up until the strangest ending a Bond film has ever had.
It’s the first time I can think of where Bond doesn’t save the world, and doesn’t really win, in the end, if you consider what his objective is, which I won’t spoil unnecessarily, and I guess that’s refreshing too.
I just wish it had been a bit more enjoyable along the way. Look, it works dramatically, as in, the acting is a notch above what it’s usually like in these Bond films, and so coupled with a less ludicrous plot, it means it’s satisfying as theatre. Is that what we really want from a Bond flick, though?
Skyfall has been ridiculously successful, both critically and box office-wise, so I’m pretty sure I’m in the outer on this one, because I just really can’t see the brilliance that other people are seeing.
dir: Robbie Pickering
Every now and then you need a quiet, chilled-out flick as a bit of a palette cleanser. A bit of cooling pickled ginger after the burning momentary wasteland of wasabi. A nice, clean beer after a nasty shot of rotgut whisky served in a dirty glass. Most of the last twenty or so films I’ve watched have been pretty intense, so something light and breezy is surely desirable.
Natural Selection is one of those flicks I knew practically nothing about before watching it, other than it was a big hit at the Sundance Film Festival some time or another. Something being a big hit at the Sundance Film Festival doesn’t usually make me want to watch something especially much, in fact it’s more likely to make me recoil in horror and contemplate watching another Michael Bay film instead.
But it was liked by a few people who I take seriously, and so I thought I’d give it a whirl.
It’s an odd bird of a flick, but nonetheless it’s an enjoyable one about a woman going on a very modest journey of reflection and self-discovery. Thankfully, this doesn’t involve Julia Roberts or Tuscany or getting a vibrator for the first time.
But it is oddly enjoyable even without any of that. Linda White (Rachael Harris) is the protagonist, and she’s a nice, God-fearing, God-bothering lady. It would seem unfair to emphasise that she’s an Evangelical Christian, but it’s central to the story, and doesn’t just reflect upon my many and varied biases.
It’s relevant right from the start, because it forms the basis of the entire character, and informs the picture we develop of the last 24 years of her life leading up to these present, interesting days.
dir: Lynn Shelton
What is Mark Duplass bribing people with in order to keep turning up in all these films lately? Has he got some great weed? An abundance of serious green bankroll from all those indie megahits he’s co-directed or starred in? A fantastically long penis that not only hits all the right spots but sings a sweet, melancholy torch song afterwards?
However he’s doing it, here he is again, at least from the perspective of my week, in that I’ve accidentally seen him in two films in only a few days. What a harsh coincidence. What cruellest fate in the kindest month.
At the very least I can console myself with the fact that I enjoyed his performance, goofy performance at that, much more than I did in Safety Not Guaranteed. It helps that he’s not playing a mental case here. His character here, all the same, is somewhat depressed, and a bit obnoxious, so it’s not like he’s stretching himself out of all shape or comfort zones.
A group of friends, and the brother (Duplass) of a guy who died the previous year, get together to remember him and to have a drink in his honour. We don’t know who the guy was, but one of the attendees (stand up comedian Mike Birbiglia) gets up and says some nice words, making people, including Iris (Emily Blunt), an ex-girlfriend of the guy, get all misty-eyed and nostalgic.
Jack takes this as an opportunity to unleash a bit of drunken vitriol aimed at his dead brother, chastises the speaker for painting such a rosy picture of the departed, saying that, really, his brother was a bit of a manipulative arsehole as well, relating some obscure part of their shared backstory to illustrate what a prick his brother was.
Of course the other attendees, drinks raised but facial expressions getting somewhat uncomfortable, don’t want to hear this shit. Jack persists, though, he wants people to remember the whole man, and they can’t do that if they just talk about his love of puppies and rainbows.
Maybe he’s got a good point. A year is probably long enough after the fact to not be “too soon” to piss on the grave. His lashing out, though, is seen, at least by Iris, with whom he’s close, as unprocessed grief and lingering depression. She abjures him to snap the fuck out of it. No, she doesn’t do that. She advises him to travel out of Seattle, I’m presuming, and to go stay at her dad’s cabin on some island in order to get his shit together. Jack, being a plot-convenient sort of chap, clearly with no job, takes her up on her suggestion.
dir: William Friedkin
Ew, this film is sleazy and nuts.
I guessed Killer Joe would be a lurid, vile, messy trawl through white trash mania and I can’t say I was at all surprised by the end result. I mean, a title like that doesn’t conjure visions of doilies, parasols and cucumber sandwiches. Instead, surprising no-one but me, this flick ends up being a nasty, repugnant black comedy about how dumb people do dumb stuff.
The chap referred to in the title is played by Mathew McConaughey, and this caps off an incredible year for this very odd man. I’ve generally found him to be an actor I don’t have much time for, but this year he’s been great in a whole bunch of stuff. He played the incredulous prosecutor in Bernie perfectly. He played the awesome (and admittedly creepy) owner of the all-male strip club in Magic Mike. And now he’s playing the loopiest and nastiest character he’s played thus far.
Joe Cooper is a police detective who also, somehow, gets to moonlight as a contract killer. I guess if you’re potentially one of the guys who’d be investigating a murder in a one-horse shitty Texan city, then you’ve got a bit of a leg-up on the opposition.
He is hired by a bunch of white trash morons to kill a particular woman. About this he seems to have absolutely no qualms or compunctions, but the fundamental problem is that he’s dealing with Grade A morons, and they don’t have the money to pay him up front. In such a circumstance, he does what any self-respecting entrepreneur would do: he takes a security retainer, in the form of a girl called Dottie (Juno Temple).
To say that this is all very unsettling would be perhaps understating the ugliness of what’s going on. I mean, after all, a central part of the movie has to do with someone committing cold blooded murder and making it look like an accident for fun and profit. But the real ugliness lies within the family itself, of people too stupid to understand how truly stupid they are.
dir: Oliver Stone
Savages is a quiet, restrained film about two estranged siblings played by Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman coming to terms with the impending death of their abusive deadbeat father. Arguments are had, feelings are expressed, Broadway plays are written, everyone except the father is happy in the end. The End.
No, wait, that was The Savages, whereas this flick is just Savages, and it’s a completely different kettle of decapitated heads. First of all, it’s directed by an Oliver Stone we haven’t seen for a very long time, since U-Turn, I think. It’s the Oliver Stone who channels Brian De Palma, and who revels in lurid, trashy, violent excess rather than conspiracy theories and political bloviating.
And no-one wants any more of that shit, not even Oliver Stone. This flick is based on a genre novel by Don Winslow of the same name, which covers the adventures in the sun of three people in love: Chon (Taylor Kitsch), Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and O (Blake Lively). Two of these people are dope growers. One of them is the person the other two have sex with. The three of them apparently love each other equally. Puts a bit of a different spin on the love triangle trope, don’t you think?
The two guys are close, but completely (the flick alleges) different men. It’s the classical dramaturgical dyad, I mean, the mismatched buddy picture dynamic. They’re Narziss and Goldmund, Arthur and Lancelot, Abbot and Costello. Chon is an ex-military, steely-eyed killer with enough affection for O and Ben, but nothing left over for the rest of the world. Ben is a gentle, Buddhist soul who’s a genius at the horticultural aspect of their business, but holds out hope that they can run their business without too much of the nasty stuff intruding.
The marijuana business has made them rich and comfortable, living a recession-proof lifestyle in Laguna Beach, California, but it’s also brought them to the attention of the Mexican cartels, who aren’t that interested in the Buddhist aspects of the business. What they’re interested in is the high THC content of the smoke Ben produces, which is in the mid 30s, something virtually unheard of in the real world outside of movies. Something that powerful would either blow the back of your head out or incur the envy of the Mexican drug lords for real, I guess.
dir: Pete Travis
Look, I know what you’re thinking: how could a Judge Dredd movie without Sylvester Stallone possibly work. It’s a hard sell, I know. But the miracle is that this film is about the most perfect movie version of the long-running British comic book character that we’re ever likely to see in our lifetimes.
No, I’m not saying it’s a great film, one that’s likely to ever have the kind of crossover appeal of The Avengers or the Batman epics (I mean crossing over to the ‘normal’ segment of the population, as opposed to the geeky or the ones who just watch any action movie as the half-eaten corn chips fall out of their gaping maws). This will probably disappear into the ether unwatched and unlamented by the discriminating masses.
That’s not much of a shame, because, honestly, who cares across this sad and beautiful world? A handful of comic book fans like me? It’s enough of a shame that they actually bothered to make a decent Judge Dredd, with a decent actor as Judge Dredd for once.
It’s a shame because every time they adapt a character faithfully from the paper medium into the one of 3D and ‘splosions, do it well, and it fails at the box office, the scumbags at the studios think “Well, we obviously didn’t change it from the source enough. Next time we’ll put in more puppies.”
This is not for everyone, in that it’s a dark and ugly flick in a lot of ways. After all, it is set in a dystopian future (so naturally they filmed it in South Africa). It is also, however, darkly funny, somewhat compelling and capable of moments of horrific beauty.
Also, if you saw The Raid: Redemption a few months ago, it’s exactly the same plot (I guess they’re good guys battling their way up a hostile residential building to kill some bad guy) which sometimes confused me when the various people weren’t talking, grunting or screaming in Bahasa Indonesian.
Karl Urban has never been accused of having too many facial expressions, and so his career has reached its apotheosis in playing Judge Dredd. He never takes the helmet off, he never smiles, he never sounds anything other than perpetually pissed off.
dir: Wes Anderson
Every couple of years we are graced with another Wes Anderson film, and those that hate him and all his works are gifted with the opportunity to rant again as to why they loathe him, and those who rave for him do the opposite. My relationship is somewhat more complex, in that I find myself liking some of his flicks and not others, but it never sits as simply as “I like your old stuff better than your new stuff.”
Moonrise Kingdom is his latest (well, duh), and I enjoyed it well enough. It’s of a piece. You know what to expect in every present and future Wes Anderson film if you’ve seen at least two of them, because they never vary in their meticulous look, in their affected acting and in their quirky awkwardness that we’re meant to find endearing.
That doesn’t mean they’re all equally good or equally bad. I guess if you like the underlying story and fussy aesthetics, it makes up for all the Andersonian fetish work you have to sit through in order to get to that ‘happy’ place.
This latest one is set in the mid 1960s, and is focussed on a love story between two twelve-year-olds who are often referred to by their peers, families and authority figures as ‘disturbed’. Sam (Jared Gilman) is a specky orphan who no-one can stand. He might be somewhere on the Asperger’s / autism spectrum, or he could just be an actor in a Wes Anderson film. It’s hard to tell the difference sometimes. He has met and fallen in love with Suzy (Kara Hayward), who hates her family and the label of being a difficult or problem child subject to rages. She might be somewhere on the psychotic spectrum or she might just be etc etc.
Sam is in the Khaki Scouts, where they have a camp that’s run like a fort, and where he is loathed by the rest of the troupe prior to and after his escape. Their fearless leader is a particularly feckless and ineffectual chap (Ed Norton), who seems to be quite depressed with his general incompetence in the face of life’s challenges, and in losing one of his charges.
There are a lot of depressed people in this flick, but that shouldn’t be surprising to anyone, because it’s a Wes Anderson flick. Suzy’s lawyer parents (Frances McDormand and Bill Murray) are depressed too, mostly because they can’t stand each other any more, but also because Suzy’s their daughter, and they feel trapped by their family. A police captain (Bruce Willis) also gets in on the act, searching for the two lovebirds once they run off to be together, who’s depressed because he can’t be with the one he loves to smoke cigarettes with.
dir: Steven Soderbergh
If you'd told me I was destined to watch and enjoy a film about male strippers in this here year of our Lord 2012, I would have scoffed and called you a liar to your face, despite your obvious track record as a fortune-teller and clairvoyant. If it was some other year, maybe 1997, maybe it might have been possible. But not now. Not in this bright, shining time of technological pinnacles and economic doom.
And yet stranger things have happened. It helps that it's directed by Soderbergh, who's been a consistently interesting director for decades (except when making those Ocean's 11-13 movies). And it also helps that they have a real life Chippendale in the lead role. Well, maybe not a Chippendale, but research shows that Channing Tatum was apparently the actual thing he portrays in this flick before he became an actor: a male stripper, stripping not to get through college but to get by until one of his actual dreams for financial security come true. He is surprisingly good in the role, and I say 'surprisingly' not because he's not a good match for the role but in spite of it.
Prior to this flick, I think, he's been regarded as a bit of a himbo, bit of a burly meathead with a still boyish face despite the abundance of steroids he's taken over the years. He also has a soft voice, incongruous compared with his appearance, that adds another layer to what he brings. The thing is, though, he's got a certain charisma to him. I've enjoyed his performances in films that I didn't enjoy, like A Guide to Recognising Your Saints, the Iraq War don't-send-me-back-again drama Stop-Loss and the Prohibition gangster era flick Public Enemies. All weak films in which he didn't exactly shine, but in which he did good work. And then of course in competent flicks, like the Jump Street remake, he showed that he's got more going on in his head and potentially in his future than just becoming another action lunkhead on the growing pile.
I don't know if Tatum being a former stripper adds a layer of verisimilitude to the proceedings, but it certainly doesn't hurt his chances. This flick tries to treat what the chaps do here seriously, though no-one sane involved in the production would pretend this is a cinema verite - documentary approach to the life. All I know is this makes male stripping look like the incongruous, awkward, hyper-masculine grind it probably is.
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: Whit Stillman
Whit Stillman, oh how I've missed you.
It's been ever so long since Last Days of Disco. Barcelona was an age ago, and Metropolitan, your first flick came out so long ago they've already put out 20th anniversary editions of the film. And now you've gifted us with another film to add to your in no way unique but still much appreciated genre of wordy upper class twits fumbling through life and live.
With Damsels in Distress, you're reminded, if you liked his previous films, of why you liked his previous films. If you hated the other ones, and I've spoken to people who think Barcelona was the most fucking obscenely tedious flick in cinematic history, and these are people who'd sat through some of Bela Tarr's eight-hour epics or Tarkovky's Solaris in single sessions, then Damsels in Distress will also fill you with that deep abiding rage you'd forgotten all about.
For me, it was like catching up with an old friend. Such an occasion can be both a good and bad experience. You're reminded of what you liked about them back in the day. You're also reminded that, with no 'present' between you, all you share in common is a common appreciation of moments distant in time, and that's just nostalgia.
There's no future in that. There is a future, hopefully, for Stillman, it's just that I wish his films didn't fall apart like cheap underwear at the end.
This film chugged and rolled along quite amiably for me for much of its length. I found it to be all the things you'd hope a Whit Stillman flick would be: witty, funny, wordy, pithy and pleasant for about half its length.
And then I think they ran out of money, so it just seemed to end.
Stillman, similar to that group of filmmakers from the 90s he is often grouped with, who had nothing else in common other than the American 90s arthouse scene like Hal Hartley, Jim Jarmusch, Kevin Smith, Richard Linklater, is that for a while at least, they seemed to be making very idiosyncratic, very personal films. When their actors 'got' what they were doing, they seemed to be embodying a very particular movement in cinema, giving hope to us all.
Then they repeated themselves ad nauseum, with the same tired quirks and fall-backs, same lazy actors and acting and the director's idiosyncratic vision and unique take on the world ended up looking like the stunted musings of artists trapped in their own intellectual basement. They ended up prematurely Woody Allening all over themselves and us.
dir: Emilio Estevez
Of all the people in the world available to direct films, you would think or hope that one of them wouldn't have to be Emilio Estevez, mega superstar of St Elmo's Fire and Young Guns fame. Estevez, one guesses, is somewhat forced to direct movies now because he's not inexplicably sought after like his drug addled brother Charlie Sheen, or as talented as his father Martin Sheen.
What better combination could there be than Estevez directing and Martin starring? Well, I guess they could have had Charlie playing a role too, maybe in the role as the lead female.
The Way is a movie about a father (Sheen) making a long pilgrimage to honour his son, who dies while on that same pilgrimage. It's not as complicated as it sounds. The father is a stodgy opthamologist who lives alone and plays golf solely to cover the fact that he has nothing else going on in his life. The only remaining family he has since his wife's death is his son Daniel (Estevez), the last contact with whom occurred when father was dropping son off at the airport. Son was all like "Dad, you should be totally out there living life and travelling and such" and the father is like "Buckle down, grow up, get a job you hate, work it for forty years, because that's what people do."
It's not an original dynamic, but in a flick like this, considering that in all sorts of stories like this, one of them has to die. They have to die after harsh words like that because then one of them can be left behind lamenting the fact that their last words to their loved one was something like "Get the shit out of your ears, dickhead, and get a job ya bum."
That's when you can really feel guilty. The son was off somewhere, but the dad didn't care. The son's constant travel and carefree ways brings nothing but misery to the father, but he's not going to have to worry about that anymore.
For reasons never explained, nor did they need to be, Daniel was off on a fairly well known pilgrimage that starts in France and ends in Spain that takes months to complete on foot. Well known to other people, I guess. I mean, I know I've done the pilgrimage at least a dozen times for sure, but perhaps the 'famous' Camino de Santiago de Compostela isn't that well known to others. It's also known as The Way of St James, hence the title. But maybe, just maybe, The Way also refers to "what is the best way to live?" or, "what is the best way to grieve for someone you loved but didn't like that much?"
dir: Len Wiseman
Who dares say this remake is unnecessary? WHO DARES?
And they include the scene with a three-breasted prostitute, so what are you complaining about?
Total Recall, the flick from the early, early Nineties, is not really the classic some are pretending it is. Sure, it’s an Arnie film from before he got too ripe, and it was directed by Paul Verhoeven, someone for whom the words "tasteless misogynist excess" are a badge of honour instead of the grave insult they're intended to be, and it was pretty freaky and entertaining at the time. But it's no 2001. It's definitely on the goofy, trashy side of the sci-fi cinematic spectrum.
It also, like this flick, didn't really have that much to do with the original Philip K. Dick short story it pretended to be lifted from. That story, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, was a very short story indeed. It also included no more than a depressed guy who goes to a memory implantation place where he wants some fantasy implanted that he's the most Important Person in the Universe. Turns out, the staff of the place realise, he actually is.
And that was it. Nothing about Mars, or three-breasted prostitutes, freeing the slaves or violent divorces. Nothing about mutants or superspy triple agents and defective holographic headgear.
So people hoping to get up on their high horses about this are wasting their time, and their horses. It's just an excuse for an action / sci-fi flick where people run, shoot and fight with people and robots, and then everything's okay in the end.
dir: Richard Linklater
Well, that was weird.
I am unsure how much of this flick is a flick and how much of it is documentary, since there is a lot of footage that doesn’t seem to be footage of actors acting.
Let me be blunt by pointing out something very secret, almost unheard of: American tv and cinema is a very discriminatory, very harsh environment. It is cruel and unforgiving. The tyranny of the slim and gorgeous is absolute in this form of media. As it should be.
I say this as a staunchly unattractive man myself, so don't go thinking that I think I'm some lithe, brutishly handsome mash-up of Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hardy. Far from it, sadly, far far from it, though it's an intriguing combination, as opposed to the rather actual combination I possess: sad old boot, wildebeest, wobbegong shark and afghan rug that genuinely comprises my DNA.
No, my point is essentially that American movies never usually have this many incredibly unattractive people in the one place at the one time unless there's a damn good reason. Plenty of other countries make movies with less than attractive people in them. British cinema seems entirely dedicated to bringing unattractive actors to the forefront so we can all gawk at them like we're looking at the freaks at a particularly anachronistic carnival.
They are all here for a purpose, a dubious one at that. They're here to keep things real. They're here to emphasise the reality of the story they're talking about, because when it's average looking humanoids, you know it's got to be 'real'.
But here's the real kicker: they are 'real' people, as in, there are people in this film who actually knew the subject of the film, being a guy called Bernie, obviously, and they talk about him all the time, and this is interspersed with Jack Black playing the character for our entertainment and edification.
Confused? I still am. It's not a documentary, at least, as far as I could tell, any of the scenes with obvious actors in them were not scenes shot for a documentary. But the film uses so much interview footage that clearly doesn't have actors talking, that the line between the two forms is a fine one.
dir: Tanya Wexler
Look, I know it’s a period piece set in England in the 1880s, but don’t be disheartened. It doesn’t have Keira Knightley in it, I swear! It has Maggie Gyllenhaal instead!
For some that’s a plus, for others it’s even worse, but for me it’s preferable. Infinitely preferable. I still have nightmares about what Knightley did with her jaw in A Dangerous Method.
Brrrr. No, this is about something far less outlandish. This movie purports to be about the strange time in human history where men didn't believe women were capable of having orgasms or enjoying sex, and where everything women said or felt or experienced was labelled as 'hysteria'. If they were perfectly docile and never complained about their status as third-class citizens, then everything was fine. If they arked up and said, "Wow, this system is fucked and we are totally disenfranchised", then clearly they were hysterical and needed to have their uteruses ripped out.
"I don't want to spend my whole life popping out children."
- slap "Get this woman to a sanatorium, she's hysterical."
"I think women should have the right to vote, to an education and the right to keep the money they earn."
- gunshot "Whack a straitjacket on that woman, she's hysterical."
"I don't think doctors should have the right to incarcerate us and perform horrifying medical procedures on us without consent and without any sensible purpose."
- stab "This woman is hysterical. She needs to have her womb yanked out."
But really, what it's about, and how it was probably sold to investors, is that it's about the invention of the vibrator.
And no, it wasn't invented by the Japanese, proudly released upon an unsuspecting but grateful world by the Sanrio Hello Kitty! company.
What's the link, you're thinking, between hysteria and a girl's best friend? The profound idiots of the medical fraternity thought women suffering from hysteria, which was a catch-all for everything ever experienced by a woman from the beginning of time onwards, could be treated by manually 'medically' stimulating women to induce 'paroxysms'. Not orgasms, you know, that blessed thing women do that lights up the world, but involuntary convulsions which, afterwards, left the women somewhat drowsy, contented, and not complaining about their lot in life.