dir: Ron Fricke
How do you even review something like this? It ends up saying more about the reviewer than the movie reviewed.
Samsara isn't a sequel to Baraka, the amazing, awe-inspiring 'documentary' from the 1990s that I've watched a billion times and whose soundtrack I've listened to even more. It's a continuation of Baraka, same director, same incredible 70mm film footage, same globe-trotting footage and same blissful lack of narration.
While I've seen Baraka so many times that it's become like the wallpaper of my skull, it exists in a pre-review time, before I was ever presumptuous enough to start thinking critically about films, about film as a medium, and, even worse, before I had the gall to start writing about them.
Samsara supplies me with a curious opportunity: How do you write about something that has no (obvious) narrative or story, which isn't really documenting anything other than how awesome-looking some bits of the world are, and which it's almost impossible to describe beyond saying stuff like "And then there's a shot of the Pope's arse, and then there's a narwhal, then there's a glacier, then there's a guy picking his nose at Roppongi Station, then there's a massive sand dune and then" which I could do for thousands of words and still get no closer to capturing its point or essence?
Well, the first thing I can comment on is that even with the lack of a clear narrative, without some voice telling us what to think, there are obviously decisions that have happened, thoughts thunk and put into action and themes put into play by both what was filmed, and how it was edited together. We, being humans, at least most of us, can see something random, something with elements that are not connected, and our minds seek to connect the dots.
We draw comfort from there being a meaning, from there being a connection. I know, schizophrenics do it all the time and it's horrible, because they can somehow connect a curious mark on the side of an apple with a cloud in the sky and a word spoken by a character in a movie, and it all points to how a taxi driver is trying to kill their hamster. Being able to imagine a connection, or hallucinating connections, doesn't mean those connections are valid.
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: Bela Tarr
Sometimes you watch a film knowing you’re not going to enjoy it. It’s with the foreknowledge that the reason for watching the film is not the pursuit of entertainment or escapism; it’s with the expectation that the experience is going to be a difficult one with no promise of redemption or eventual meaning.
What compelled me to watch this film, The Turin Horse, and review it, for you, the utterly nonplussed reader?
Curiousity, dear reader, nothing but curiosity.
I have heard of Hungarian director Bela Tarr, but never seen one of his films before. They are famous, or notorious, for being extremely long, consisting of very long, uncut scenes of people not doing very much. His most famous film, Satantango, is over seven hours long. He’s the quintessential director of the kinds of films people who never watch arthouse films think arthouse films are all like.
As such, The Turin Horse is practically the epitome of a parody of European arthouse films: it’s in black and white, the tone is overwhelming in its sombre dourness, there are peasants in peasanty clothing doing peasant things, the soundtrack is a repetitive, depressing four tone dirge, and what dialogue we hear (or read, since it’s subtitled, unless you’re Hungarian) is either trivial, makes no sense or is pretentious drivel and the point of it all is almost a complete mystery even to the most attentive and hopeful of viewers.
Within that, though, there’s possibly something powerful about the experience. You wouldn’t keep watching it if you were flicking through the channels and caught a few seconds of it on SBS or World Movies, because it’s the kind of flick you have to force yourself to watch. In the process of doing so, perhaps there’s something meaningful that comes out of it.
Note that I didn’t say that something meaningful definitely comes out of it because I have no idea whether it was a worthwhile way to spend two and a half hours or not. I love film, though, so it doesn’t seem like a waste to me. And this is the purest film experience for film wankers the world over that they could ever dream of.
dir: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
This is a remarkable film, a very long film, in which very little happens. It's about something fairly important, in that three car loads of gentlemen for most of the film's length are driving around the bleak landscape of Central Anatolia for an important reason, but that reason seems to be out of proportion with the journey they endure.
In essence it becomes less about a murder investigation and more about the men involved, even though we get the barest amount of information about them. And then they drive on and on.
As the film opens, there are three men we observe behind a window, chatting about stuff and laughing, and then one of them gets up and looks out the window. This takes a fair amount of time.
The next we see, after the titles, is a barren landscape in fading light, as a bunch of cars drive across, looking for something. It will be a long time for us and them before they find anything. More so for us.
What follows is a very naturalistic, very mundane police procedural, but don't for a second confuse it with a CSI: Turkey. It's not a forensic investigation or even an investigation. These chaps know who committed the crime, and the guilty are there with them as they drive around in their cars. In fact, there's not a scintilla of mystery to the proceedings. There's just cold hard reality.
Can there be beauty in the mundane? We regard 'beauty' as being something almost rare, or extraordinary, and it truly can be. But we make the distinction between something of surface glossiness and something possessing depth, at least I hope we do. It would seem inelegant or even inappropriate to describe this flick as a beautiful film, because there's nothing obviously beautiful about the set up or the realisation. It's also a very painstakingly slow film. When people in the flick do anything, they do all of it. There aren't a bunch of establishing shots or montage-like edits getting us anywhere, ever. When they need to drive somewhere, they drive the whole time there, and we're with them the whole time. As the sun sets on this fairly grim part of the world, it takes a long time setting. Much is made of the natural light used for much of the flick, and it really does help in making you feel not as an omniscient observer, but as someone who's actually there, having to endure the passage of time, and the petty disagreements and obstacles along with the other characters.
As for those characters, well, they're a strange bunch of people. They're not David Lynch strange, or riddled with quirks and tics as in a Wes Anderson movie; it's just that they seem like they're fully realised but banal characters who live this life and endure all its mundanity for reasons we're never going to find out and that we don't need to know. And we should already know this stuff, since we've been working with them for ages already.
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: Daniel Nettheim
The Hunter is a sombre, icy film from last year that I didn’t get a chance to see in the cinemas at the time. It’s a pity on the one hand because I’m sure the sometimes harsh Tasmanian wilderness would have looked sublime up on the big screen.
Alternately, my perplexity at the ending and the point of it all would not have been lessened by the big screen experience.
A German biotech company called Red Leaf hires a man, a manly American man (Willem Dafoe) to go out into the Tasmanian wilderness in order to find the last remaining thylacine. As in, the Tasmanian Tiger which has been long thought extinct.
It’s all hush hush, and the company treats this as if they’re planning to whack the pope (which is not a masturbation euphemism, though maybe it is). Martin, as Dafoe’s character is called, travels to the backwaters of the backwater that is Tasmania, and is unimpressed with his surroundings. It doesn’t help that the place he happens to be staying seems to be infested with hippie children and the power is out.
When he goes into town to try and find some other kind of accommodation, the locals are not helpful. In fact, they’re downright rude. The only work locally seems to be logging and serving beers at the pub. For some reason the salt-of-the-earth loggers and the surly publican assume Martin is some kind of pinko greenie who somehow, all on his own, is going to stop their livelihood dead in its tracks. It’s never, at any stage, explained how or why they think this one chap is going to stop the area’s only industry, but presumably because his task is secret, he never disabuses them of their foolish notions. Even though it would have been really, really easy whether he told the truth or lied wickedly.
dir: Jonathan Teplitzky
This Australian film from last year has nothing to do with the week-long Burning Man festival in the States which happens every year (which coincidentally starts today, Aug 27th) and is capped off with a massive effigy of a burning man. It is, however, about a man who is burning.
He is burning with desire, with the clap and probably a few other factors are making him blaze, but as the film opens, what he’s burning with is actual fire.
Tom (Matthew Goode) is a chef, and like all chefs depicted in film, is a hard-charging hyper-caffeinated arsehole. Well, maybe it’s not fair to say all of them on film are Type A personality arrogant arseholes. I think there was one who wasn’t. It might have been Remy the rat from Ratatouille. But all of the rest of them tend to be shown as alcoholics and drug abusers who shag anyone at any time.
Anyone who has spent time with people like this in real life knows how false a picture of the food services industry this truly is. I mean, I’ve known stacks of people working like this in high pressure kitchens, and they NEVER drank on the job or smoked dope during a break or shagged co-workers in the alley behind the restaurant. Also, they never get trashed after work every other night, nor is Monday the night when they tend to go completely crazy, since they’ve usually worked all weekend.
It’s a tough environment to work in. Margins are razor thin, staff can be undependable and turnover is high, and your restaurant can live or die on the quality of a day’s produce, or be murdered by a single stinky review. It produces exceedingly talented people, but it also makes some bush league level arseholes into Parliamentary – International level arseholes.
Arseholes like Tom. We see a lot of disjointed images at the beginning, ones that seem to be jumping all over the place time-wise. We’re not sure what’s happening and when it’s meant to be happening, and it takes a long time for the story to coalesce for us.
This deliberate fractured narrative is intended, I think, to give us the setup first: How much of an arsehole is Tom, who also seems to be heading for a fiery death, and how did this all come about?
There are a lot of women shown briefly at the beginning, giving us a sense that Tom is a player of the highest order, just like all chefs, but as the story progresses it illuminates the elements of his character, so that time (as in, when something happens) tells us more about Tom rather than the element itself.
For much of the flick’s length I thought the flick was trying to explain why Tom ended up where he seemed like he was going to end up. Instead it’s trying to explain why a seemingly high-strung man is always angry. Turns out that he has a bloody good reason.
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: 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: Tomas Alfredson
I generally reject the idea, outright, that a really good film could also be really boring, the way a lot of people said about Tree of Life. Not necessarily at the same time, or to the same person, but if a flick is strong, then how can it be boring?
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is not a boring flick at all. It’s a great adaptation, and a great looking film, meticulously filmed and acted. Alfredson has filmed this (or at least his cinematographer) as exquisitely as Let The Right One In, with a very different plot but a strong, sombre tone.
I can see, however, that this is probably not a flick that should be watched by people under forty. The visual look of the sixties and seventies depicted here, and the cool, stately scenes, edits and transitions, and the considered, intricate nature of the plot is going to anesthetise audiences hoping for the kind of movie they think of when they hear the words ‘spy thriller’.
This is certainly a thriller about spies, but this has to be at the absolute other end of the spectrum from action flicks like Ghost Protocol or The Bourne Legacy. In fact, a flick like this seems to be mocking them outright.
I’m not personally going to know which kind of flick is closer to the reality of international espionage. From what I’ve read and the many and varied compulsive liars I’ve spoken to over the years, I suspect the constipated, dull, institutional approach is probably the closer to reality. The people you might have met over the years who tell you they’ve worked in the clandestine services (and I’ve spoken to a surprising number of them) tend to be delusional braggarts, the kind of people you assume would have been weeded out in the selection process. The people who really have worked in those capacities tend to look more like non-descript accountants rather than suave motherfuckers in tuxedoes with their guns and cocks out, trying to fuck half the world and kill the other half.
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.
dir: John Madden
Movies for oldies. Why not? Many of them have oodles of disposable income, and they’re as keen about being pandered to at the cinema as much as anyone else is. Plus, cinemas like my local arthouse Cinema Nova needs something to play on Mondays to make the oldies queue up like they’re offering free flu shots.
This niche is a pleasant enough niche, smelling as it does of casseroles, Vicks Vaporub and unwashed dishes, and it often results in some very excellent films, not all of them being Merchant Ivory productions. Sure, they don’t want to startle the old folks with anything even mildly shocking, so these flicks tend to be fairly safe and pedestrian affairs, but that doesn’t mean they are lacking in beauty.
On some levels I was watching this thinking “I should hate this and everything it stands for”, but the actors involved are too good, and the episodic, sometimes haphazard nature of the narrative are woven together well enough to overcome the hokeyness of some of the material.
A random collection of British oldies somehow either choose or are compelled to end up at a rundown hotel in Jaipur, India. Jaipur is also known as the Pink City, not that that illuminates anything for the dear reader. The idea, from the perspective of the superannuated, is that however much or little money life has left them with, they should be able to run our the clock in semi-luxury without having to worry about ending up in one of those state-run old folk’s homes where they bathe people in petrol to keep the leprosy at bay.
When they arrive, coincidentally at the same time, they are shocked, SHOCKED to discover that the place is nowhere near as opulent as the internet led them to believe. Naughty internet for telling porky pies.
The motley crew of oldies includes an unrepentant racist (Dame Maggie Smith) in town for a hip replacement operation, a widow who’s never really ‘lived’ (Dame Judi Dench), a retired judge who longs for a lost love (Dame Tom Wilkinson), a crusty old womaniser (Dame Ronald Pickup), and two Civil Service retirees who clearly hate each other and hate all of life because the internet made them poor (Dame Bill Nighy and Dame Penelope Wilton). There are probably some other people, but really, do they matter compared to that list of great dames?
dir: Asghar Farhadi
Simin (Leila Hatami) and Nader (Peyman Moaadi) are seeking a separation, a divorce, in other words. They plead their respective cases to the judge. The judge, in this case, is the camera. For five minutes they argue at each other through the ‘judge’, who keeps admonishing them for whatever they are trying or not trying to do.
They make their plaintive statements, in Nader’s case fairly passive-aggressive statements, to us, pleading for us to understand which one is in the right. The thing is, though, they are trying to use the law to get what they want: Simin doesn’t really want a divorce, she wants the whole family to leave Iran, so she wants custody of their daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi), to make Nader come with them to places unknown, but far away from here.
The judge’s voice says, with hidden menace, “What’s wrong with living here?” The question is left unanswered, because this is the place where answering honestly can fuck up far more than just your day. Especially for Iranian women.
This is Iran, and I can’t imagine the scenario in which a court grants a woman anything there, including an uncontested divorce. Nader won’t let go of Termeh, because he knows his wife will never leave Iran as long as Termeh stays with him. And Simin might as well be talking to statues, regardless of her determination, regardless of how right or wrong she may be.
This all sounds like too much drama, but it’s pitched at just the right human level. It’s not melodramatic or over the top, it’s not Kramer Vs Kramer Persian style mixed with Nineteen-Eighty-Four: it’s people with real emotions dealing with the bizarre Iranian legal system to get what they think they deserve.
But that’s the problem: to hope for satisfaction from such a legal system, any legal system, but especially this one, is to hope in vain. It’s not just the vicissitudes of the legal system at fault, but the aspects of people’s personalities and their actions that render people both right and wrong at the best and worst of times.
It’s impossible for those of us not living in Iran, and not that conversant with all the various complexities therein, to watch a flick like this without seeing it as an indictment of the oppressive regime they live under. Every Iranian flick, every flick that mentions Iran is unavoidably seen through that lens. It’s also the kind of place that jails and beats its directors and their families, as director Jafar Panahi found out several months ago, the poor bastard.
I try to sarcastically derive all my knowledge of people, political systems and places from movies, so all I know of Iran comes from films like the ones made by Jafar Panahi, Abbas Kiarostami, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, and the graphic novels (and movie Persepolis) of Marjane Satrapi. It’s a limited perspective in some ways, because it means the sum and total of my impressions are derived from the views of upper-middle-class creative types with the skills and the contacts to dance the razor’s edge between creating art and pissing off the mullahs that would see them jailed and unemployed for the next twenty years.
In other words, if you don’t know from some source just how rich Iranian history is, and how fucked up Iranian society has been since the Revolution, you’re not listening hard enough, and elements of a film like A Separation will look like life on some alternate reality Earth.
dir: Andrew Niccol
Oh, World: Stop foisting Justin Timberlake onto us as a lead actor. I know he doesn’t want to record albums anymore, but really, when he’s talking and moving, he’s not really conveying whatever the hell it is that you think he’s conveying.
He’s certainly not an action hero in the making. Where do you think this is, Taiwan? Only in Taiwan, Seoul and possibly Hong Kong do people make a career as treacly pop singers before they make the jump to action superstardom.
And what a film to try to make him the next Jason Statham, eh? A science fiction flick where Timberlake’s character, who’s from the ghetto, don’t you know, tries to upend an unfair system which keeps most of humanity in virtual slavery to Father Time.
Yeah, I know, it’s just like every single other flick that comes out, with Timekeepers instead of cops, and people literally stealing the life left to people off of each other’s arms instead of having Matrix-y type fights, but these chaps have thrown in a completely new spin on the Bonnie and Clyde set-up, so it must be good.
Andrew Niccol, a long time ago, made a flick I liked. It was called Gattacca, and it posited a not-too-distant future where genetic engineering was causing certain changes in society, and few of them were any good. In Time kind-of could be seen as the next extension of that, in that the society depicted in this flick has arisen in its particular way due to genetic engineering leading to virtual immortality.
People are born the usual way, but once they turn 25, a clock starts ticking on their arm, showing the amount of time they have left, being a year. That time is the only currency which exists now, in that people literally work for extra time to be added onto their arms in order to keep living. If someone runs out of time, they die, instantly.
People pay for stuff using that time. A cheap meal could cost a couple of minutes, and a pricey meal could cost a month. They can give each other time by holding hands and transferring it, and some enterprising hoodlums simply jack people for it, killing the people. Theoretically, a person could live for hundreds, if not thousands of years, but how, of course, does someone accumulate that much time? And wouldn’t people get bored after a few hundred years?
dir: Ben Wheatley
Pretty nasty. Pretty goddamn nasty. Ugly and goddamn nasty would perhaps be most apt.
Trust the Brits to make a flick about work-a-day hitmen that’s probably closer to the reality of what such monsters must look like. None of this aestheticisation of murder crap for them, no.
Oh, fuck the ethical / moral arguments about it; they’re not worth having, they can’t be had because no-one’s arguing the contrary. What I’m saying is, considering the sheer abundance of films with characters who are hitmen, in reality, such professionals are probably more like the chaps here than, oh, let’s say George Clooney in The American.
I’m not just talking looks-wise here. Although I am. Bless the Brits for doing something to ensure unattractive people get to make a living. No, I mean it just feels more credible to have two chaps like the ones here, Jay (Neil Maskell) and Gal (Michael Smiley) doing what they’re doing, rather than two rarefied, classical-music-listening, Faberge-egg-collecting pretty-boy buff chaps, which would be the norm if you believed a lot of movies with the subject.
Nah. Working class chaps all the way, ex-Army, who don’t mind getting their hands bloody in order to pay the mortgage and keep their scrag wives in the luxury (of jacuzzis and Katie Price designer hand bags) they’ve become accustomed to. A job, a grinding trade-like job. One where you’d think they could wack on some overalls, get their lunchbox and a thermos of tea, and wander off after kissing the wife and ruffling the hair of their kid, to a full day of brutal murder.
With a name like Kill List, presumably people aren’t expecting My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic! Despite Jay’s reluctance, he eventually agrees, after a dinner party with Gal and his girlfriend, to work on another project. Various characters make regular allusions to Jay’s last job, which apparently didn’t go very well. Kiev, they say, everything went wrong in Kiev. Everything always goes wrong in Kiev.
dir: Sean Durkin
A strange film. A strange, awkward film about a strange, damaged girl called Martha (Elizabeth Olsen). Well, her name is usually Martha, and then someone else anoints her as a Marcy May, and then later on, when asked her name on the phone, she calls herself Marlene, just like all the woman in her cult when they’re on the phone.
There’s your explanation of the title, if that’s what was perplexing you. It’s also the only way to remember the title itself. For months people would refer to the film or ask me if I’d seen it, and we’d both be flustering or dribbling “you seen that Marley uh Macy Grey, uh Mandlebrot movie yet?” in the struggle for a title.
I’m not sure if it’s a character study, or if it’s just an uncomfortable look at a mildly insane woman, but what it ends up being is a tedious drag. I know it’s meant to be a great film, and that it garnered a lot of praise last year for the central performance and for the creepy and oppressive atmosphere it generates, but I really, in the wash up, don’t see what the fuss was about. I'm not trying to be oppositional just for the sake of it, nor am I disliking it just because critics wanked over it.
Olsen has a very expressive face, though, for my money, she’s more reminiscent of Maggie Gyllenhaal than her evil twin sisters Mary-Kate and Ashley. Her performance is strong at times, and weak at others. I wasn’t sure if it was the characterisation or the character that was the most inconsistent, but I found her compelling only rarely. Quite often, the character and the actress annoyed me, and not in a way that made me sympathetic to the portrayal or the film. If readers feel that I'm being unfair, I'm all ears (or eyes, as the case would be on the internets), and I am looking forward to someone putting forward the case that it's actually great, for this and this and this reason. Good luck, by the way.
dir: Drew Goddard
Five teenagers go camping, or to a secluded cabin in a forest, or a house by a lake. They go there to get wasted and have sex, generally, to incur the wrath of some truly conservative and reactionary forces embodied in a killer who then goes to work.
Something always arises from somewhere, at least, in the horror flicks of the last thirty years, and kills all or most of them one by one, in the most grisly of fashions.
There will be naughtiness, but not too much. There will be harsh language. There will be alcohol and drug consumption. And there will be blood, lots of blood. And boobies, but mostly blood.
There are a thousand movies like this, I’m not going to list any of them. You know the ones. You either love them with a passion, in which case you’re a sick fuck and you should be avoided, or you love them ironically, with hipster detachment, which possibly makes you worse than fifty Hitlers, or you hate them and have absolutely no time for them, yet know intimately of their existence.
But why? Not ‘why do they keep making these movies’, because money you’d think is the sole determinant, but why is or was the template adhered to so rigidly? Why do five teenagers, five American teenagers, always seem to find themselves in this predicament every other ‘week’ or so? You’d think that, considering the sheer quantity of movies, and their sequels with teen slaughter as the special of the day, even in the world these fictional teens inhabit, they’d be more terrified of these trips away than they would be of terrorism, chlamydia and paying off their student loans.
Genre blindness aside, they all keep seeming to make the same mistake eternally, endlessly, over and over again, like lambs to the meat grinder on a conveyor belt.
dir: Steve McQueen
I understand shame. Believe me, I have a deep appreciation of shame, both the concept and the feeling, the horrible feeling, of shame.
I don’t think I really understood Shame.
The main reason is this: I don’t understand what it was trying to say. I think I understood what it said, in the way that if someone says to me “my cat’s breath smells like cat food”, I understand the individual words and the overall sentence. If the statement was made to me when I was standing at a shop counter asking for a pack of smokes, though, you can understand my lack of understanding from the context.
Michael Fassbender is a tremendous actor, and I’ll happily watch him in anything he does. All I did in this flick was watch him. He is this entire film, and he’s definitely a major presence, in or out of this flick, in or out of the nude. I still didn’t get what he was doing here, though, or why.
Let me be blunt: his behaviour in this flick, except for the visit to a certain type of club towards the end, is what most guys are like, or at least most guys wish they were like. You might think I'm exaggerating, but I'm sorry to say, ladies, that this is what men are like all day every day. They're pigs, and you only have the barest appreciation for how truly piggish most of us are. His character here is an alpha male who, for the purposes of this flick, is meant to be some kind of sex addict. That's meant to be the key: this is supposed to be a gruelling trawl through the dark world of sex addiction.
I find this a bit perplexing, because most of the guys on this planet do the same when they have the time, money, looks, confidence and inclination. In fact, let me phrase it more concisely: this is what guys who probably aren't defined as sex addicts act like, every fucking day of their delightfully full lives.
I'm not talking from personal experience, lest you think, dear reader, that I am raising myself to the lofty or lowly heights of gods amongst men like Michael Fassbender or the characters he plays. I am so far from being an alpha male that I don't think using the designation of "omega" would even cover it. But I do, unfortunately, know plenty about the male mind, more than any human should ever want to know, to the point where I despair for our entire species sometimes.
See, men live in this reality, which is a cold, grey, grim concrete world with brief glimmers and sparkles of joy and meaning. But part of the male mind, or at least around six inches of it, permanently resides in that porno fantasy land where sex is always potentially in the offing, always just around the corner, and is always a possibility no matter how unlikely or sexless the circumstances.
dir: Jason Reitman
Charlize Theron was terrifying in Monster, where she played serial killer Aileen Wuornos all those years ago, snagging an Oscar for her performance.
There are scenes in Young Adult where she’s even more horrifying.
She does this thing with her eyes where she leeches them of all human sentiment or human feeling. They transform into the eyes of some infinitely old and infinitely cold alien who observes our species with nothing but contempt.
And then she just acts like a self-centred brat who’s never grown up from being the high school mean/popular girl, who is doomed to be nothing but this for the rest of her life.
When Mavis (Charlize Theron) receives a group e-mail announcing the birth of her married, high-school boyfriend’s daughter, who has been out of her life for decades, she somehow twists this to mean that now is the time for her to return to her shitty home town to rescue him from a life of domesticity and human feeling.
She is a piece of work, a true piece of work. Her alcoholism is only one of her many estimable qualities. When she piles in to her car in order to drive back home to Mercury, Minnesota, with miniature dog in tow, she puts in a tape that dates back to her glory days, to the halcyon, to the peak of existence.
That tape, a mixtape, is just one of the many testaments to a certain age, here. What kids make mixtapes these days? I would hazard a guess that there’s possibly only about five people constructing even ‘mixtape’ CDs worldwide, and they’re probably just perverts.
What’s the contemporary equivalent? Sending a text message with a playlist that has links to the torrentz where some songs could be downloaded? Cram that up your iPod’s nethers and smoke to it, freaks and groovers.
Mavis plays the same song again and again. Actually, not even the entire song. She keeps repeating the intro mostly, again and again, just to hear the words “She wears denim wherever she goes / says she’s gonna get some records by The Status Quo oh yeah / Oh Yeah.”
Oh, yes indeed, it’s a great song from a great album, being The Concept from Bandwagonesque by Teenage Fanclub. It’s meant to date not the film but the protagonist. The strangest thing, for me at least, is that it perfectly situated me in a time and place so I could understand the exact era these halcyon days of hers were meant to be from: the early 90s. If it had been a Nirvana song, that would have been too broad, and too on the nose, too easy. But this song narrowed it down even more.
It’s the way that she keeps playing the first bit of the song that’s even more telling, or possibly even more telling. She can’t even let the rest of the song play, or the tape itself. As if that wasn’t subtle enough, the song plays a key part later on as well.
dir: Bruce Robinson
You didn’t know this, but The Rum Diary is a superhero movie, of a different stripe. More specifically, it’s a superhero origin story, and it stars Johnny Depp.
Yes, yes, we’re all tired of those. But the superhero in question is Hunter S. Thompson, and the origin is that of his relentless, drug-fuelled campaign against the ‘Bastards’, which only came to an end seven years ago in 2005 when he decided to blow his own brains out.
Now, lest you think he fought against people whose parents weren’t married when they were born (a terrible fate for anyone not born lately, apparently), the battle I refer to is that against the dark forces, the forces of greed, the bastards who would carve up paradise and sell it by the gram, laden with sugar and other life-leeching chemicals. The Rum Diary is about how he found his voice, and how he started writing for the public in order to take the Bastards down.
Or, to at least make life difficult for them in the court of public opinion.
That’s, I think, what the purpose was behind the flick. Johnny Depp, who apparently loved the man deeply and profoundly, is trying to convert everything written by the man into a film, and has essentially played Thompson twice now, both here and in Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I suspect that every few years, whenever there’s a lull in his schedule, he’s going to make more flicks as Hunter S, alternating between him and Captain Jack Sparrow in those damned Pirates of the Caribbean flicks. Damned unnecessary, I say!
dir: Ralph Fiennes
Speaking of Shakespeare, as I was in that recent review for Anonymous: damn, he really wrote, whoever it was, a lot of plays, thirty-eight in fact. I mean, that’s prolific. And, as with any prolific authors, they’ve got stuff no-one wants to know about, Kenneth Brannagh doesn’t want to direct, and Leonardo DiCaprio doesn’t want to star in.
So it’s left up to Ralph Fiennes, still smarting from his goofy brother Joseph Fiennes getting to play the Bard in Shakespeare in Love, to direct and star in Coriolanus.
They used to think it was based on someone who really existed, and something that really happened, but it probably didn’t. That doesn’t stop a Fiennes, though, does it? And it hardly matters for the purposes of whether we’re entertained or not.
It’s set in somewhat ‘modern’ times, though the empire depicted is the Roman one, so all the references are old timey. I’ve also heard, though it’s not obvious from watching it, Fiennes’ intention was to make it look like the Balkans in the 90s, when European unity (and contemporary genocide) was at its finest.
The Coriolanus of the title is the main character, a Roman general who, until recently, was known only as Caius Marcius. He is really good at soldiery and ordering troops around. He's even better at killing the enemy. When Rome's enemies rear their ugly but still compelling heads, Caius will be there to crush them, and crush them good.
This isn't enough for some people, though. The common people of Rome, the plebians, they are not that enamoured of this chap, who some find haughty and too proud. In fact, they downright hate him for not handing out grain, like they want, just because they've got nothing to eat.
Goddamn starving freeloaders. Don't they know that conservative economic policies haven't been invented yet to justify their starvation by claiming that the free market deems them not worthy of living, and that the grain will better serve the wealthy if it stays locked up and eventually rots in granaries? Selfish, selfish people. They're so selfish that they agitate, threaten, protest and demonstrate against this prince amongst men, this lion amongst meerkats. Against all counsel, he goes out to tell them just what he thinks of them.
dir: Roland Emmerich
Roland Emmerich has previously been best known for making some of the most explode-y and truly stupid movies the cinema and your eyes have ever played host to. Independence Day, 2012, The Patriot, Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow, 10,000 BC – there are more, and it’s a long, ignoble list of universal infamy.
So why’s he making a movie about the ‘real’ story behind William Shakespeare, when Shakespeare has about as much in common with Emmerich’s cinematic atrocities as Andrew Dice Clay, Pauly Shore or Rodney Rude do?
Who knows? I mean, I could look it up. I’m sure there’s dozens of interviews with him giving what he claims is the real motivation for doing so, but, considering the fact that most of that sort of PR guff is bullshit anyway, I choose not to inform myself in such a manner.
It’s far more tempting to just guess, based on scant or no evidence, as to his deep-seeded desire to tear down someone substantially greater than himself.
If someone like Kenneth Brannagh, Sir Lawrence Olivier, Sir Derek Jacobi, Dame Judi Dench, a literature scholar or one of the Kardashians tried it, you’d think it arose because of their deep connection to and love for Shakespeare’s works, since they’d seemingly devoted much of their lives (or their bandwagons) to him. But because of that connection, there could be an assumption made that they’re not, like Iago from Othello, motivated by just motiveless malice.
When a hack like Emmerich, someone responsible for films as lobotmised and terrible as anything Michael Bay has ever managed, just with less robots, makes a movie where the whole point is that Shakespeare was an illiterate hack and never wrote the plays he was acclaimed for, you suspect that resentment and envy are the key.
Ultimately, though, and whilst I strongly and loudly assert that not for a second do I believe any of the alternate / conspiracy theory scenario at play here, I don’t think that’s what motivated him.
The main point the flick is trying to make is that the works themselves, works the flick never really devotes much time to in an artistic sense, are sublime and truly eternal, but that pretty much every living being in the Elizabethan Age was a scoundrel, a scumbag and a fuck-up.
dir: Phyllida Lloyd
Damn, that Maggie, she was a bit of a saucy tyrant, eh? Sorry, that’s Baroness Thatcher to the likes of you and me, fellow bloody peasants.
It’s still a freaky occurrence that Maggie, or any woman for that matter, rose to power to lead the Tory party to successive victories at Britain’s polls, and was, for various reasons, one of the most powerful persons in the world, let alone powerful women. For various reasons, the leadership of Golda Meir, or Indira Ghandi or any other women who’ve risen to (elected) power is more explainable than Maggie’s seizure of the reins.
Those driving forces, personal and societal, will remain a sweet mystery for you, perhaps even becoming more mysterious for you, after having watched this flick, because it never comes close to giving us an inkling of how or why any of it happened.
That’s not entirely fair. Maggie, as portrayed here, is possessed of implacable ambition and an iron will. She’s also highly intelligent, and deeply committed to her father’s conservative views about the wonderfulness of hard-working middle-class people, and the worthlessness of the lower orders of society.
Scratch that, I just remembered that Thatcher once famously said that there was no such thing as society. So there’s no society to speak of. However, if such a thing actually existed, then Maggie would be against it, not for it.
Meryl Streep won the Academy Award for this role, and it’s hard to argue that it’s not a great performance. It is. It truly is. Her rendering, her recreation of the woman is nothing short of frightening. She imbues her with far more than just a competent impression would. She summons up this horrible / admirable creature from the abyss for all of us to behold, in all her ignominious glory.
Wait, what? Maggie’s not dead yet? I know that, I’m just saying that the Maggie Meryl summons for us is from a time when Maggie was still lucid, and fearsome. She is neither now, having long ago fallen down the dementia rabbit hole, possibly some time in the 1980s. I kid, I kid, she’s great, she’s all right.
dir: Roman Polanski
Parents, as any teenager will tell you, are the worst. They’re just horrible people, perpetually using their children as surrogates, stand-ins and battlefields for all their fears, failures and furies. At least as far as movies are concerned
And they’re always convinced that they’re right, even when and especially when they’re wrong.
Four people get trapped in an apartment, unable to leave, held in place like insects in amber by societal niceties, the social contract, the fear of litigation, and eventually, the shittiness of their own marriages. What a recipe for success!
And it's all over an eleven-year-old hitting another eleven-year-old with a stick.
At least in the Australian context, it's hard not to think of The Slap, which uses the slap of the title to show the fault lines and flaws in the relationships of dozens of interlinked people. The realisation of this story, though, couldn't be more different. This flick is based on a play, and it shows. The 'action' doesn't move from the apartment, well, it only moves as far as the outside of the apartment, as two sets of parents try to wrest some kind of meaning from each other, to make up for the lack of it in other areas of their lives.
Penelope (Jodie Foster) and Michael (John C. Reilly) are the parents of the child who was struck. They present a cheery, amenable front, but Penelope, especially, is so very prickly and brittle. Words, using just the 'right' words in any given context, has the potential to set her off. Words matter to her. When the parents of the other child, the one who perpetrated the horrifying, callous, monstrous, banal act use the 'wrong' word, Penelope pulls them up on it, because she feels like they aren’t taking the seriousness of the situation, the obvious seriousness of the situation, seriously enough.