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Force Majeure

Force Maeure film posterSynopsis

Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke ) is on a skiing holiday with his wife Ebba and the two kids.  Avalanches are controlled through detonation and one seems to be heading towards them.  Tomas grabs his Iphone and runs away leaving Ebba to look after the kids.  The avalanche leaves only a harmless mist of snow which does not reach them.  He returns to his family.  He must deal with his cowardice.

Review

This film is an unrelenting gaze at our failure to live up to the painfully flattering image we like to make of ourselves.  This is an affluent middle class family, the couple are good looking and enjoy all the status advantages, but this is undone in a moment of cowardice.  The middle class family starts to fall apart.  Ebba and the kids reproach Tomas who initially can’t be honest about running away.  He justifies himself by arguing that actions can be interpreted in different ways.  The evidence of the Iphone is irrefutable and his loss of face before his wife and friends is sadistically drawn out.  His friend Mats makes excuses for him “You were safe so you could dig them out?”.  The more he tries to excuse Tomas, the more embarrassing it becomes because all this painful justification convinces no-one.  Tomos then turns the event into a sort of family therapy session, absurdly claiming victimhood in order to win his wife’s sympathy.  He wants absolution and bizarrely seems to arrange a skiing accident which will flatter his male ego.  The desolation of the snowy landscape is good background for stripped down emotions, accentuating the transience of the affluent smugness that intrudes on it.  The wheezing machinery in the snow looks like a spidery cage opening on freezing death.  Grim.

 

 

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Wild Tales

Wild Tales film posterSynopsis

A collection of stories – Pasternak, Rats, Road to Hell, Dynamite, The Bill, Till Death Do Us Part – about revenge.  Set in Argentina.

Review

These stories are like a mixture of The Twilight Zone, and Bunuel with The Three Stooges.  The first story is appallingly topical after the Alpine plane crash, so its release is unfortunate.  Another story concerns the casual murder of a loathsome man.  Another is like Spielberg’s Duel, only this time the protagonists are snarling face to face.  The next starts with the buying of a birthday cake and ends up as a black comedy aimed at obstructive bureaucracy working a scam.  Then there is a story about a road death and how the rich and powerful can avoid the consequences of their misdeeds.  Another is about hilarious grounds for divorce, even before the couple dishes out the wedding cake.  There is a very jaded look at contemporary Argentina when corruption and violence are fixtures in the lives of the rich and powerful.  The stories cleverly dangle the plot twist which never really comes.  Each tale simply ends in cold vengeance, sometimes just malicious and sometimes just nobody is likeable, everyone has good reasons for bad behaviour.  The opening pictures of the film show animals and what we get is a menagerie of injured vanity, cowardice, greed, self loathing, jealousy, class hatred, and shame. The bars of the cage don’t so much rattle as clang from indignation at the sorry state of failed humanity.  It’s like torture porn scripted by Shakespeare of Titus Andronicus with a lot of Jacobean darkness.

 

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While We’re Young

While We're Young film posterSynopsis

Noah Baumbach’s comedy about Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) in their 40s trying to relive their younger years. They are befriended by Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried).  Cornelia gets into hip hop and Josh collaborates with Jamie in a documentary. Cornelia is childless but wants a child.  Josh and Jamie discuss the nature of film.  The two couples want rejuvenation through peyote-induced therapy techniques.  There is confrontation between James and Josh at the end.

Review

This is very Woody Allen (yuk).  Middle aged and middle class averagely insane narcissists worried about the direction of their lives.  I certainly didn’t sympathize with their plight, I just wish they’d grow up less embarrassingly.   It’s like all those productions in which the younger people are often more mature than the silly middle aged.  Cornelia gets involved with Mum-set types and wants a child (this is the usual Hollywood lecture, that having kids is the ultimate in life).  Josh and Cornelia want to get back to their lives before they used Google and Twitter.  They want to revive the romanticism of their first meeting.  Josh tells Cornelia it’s idiotic to text or phone each other first date wise when they’re (erm) living in the same room.  It’s Bob Ted Carol and Alice in reverse, not married couples experimenting with sexual drugs but getting back to basics.  Naturally Jamie and Darby listen to vinyl records, and to tapes, and use typewriters, and these are the things that Josh and Cornelia discarded.  Darby makes ice cream, how quirkily hip my dear!  Josh and Jamie agonise about documentary film and the nature of truth, which of course reflects the endless search for authenticity in their personal lives.  Jamie is not the seeker of truth he seems to be but can be coldly manipulative and career orientated, more than his idealistic pose would have Josh believe.  Josh has a problem with this but shouldn’t he look deeper into his art? There is guilt ridden theorising about it. The ayahuesca sessions are reminiscent of those obligatory visits to such places as the Esden Centre that middle aged hippies used to visit.  Irritating!!!!

 
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Posted by on May 26, 2015 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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Selma

Selma film posterSynopsis

About Martin Luther King (David Oyelowo) and the civil rights struggles in 1965 in Selma Alabama.  King organizes a march for the right to vote.  About the persecution of black people by southern whites led by George Wallace (Tim Roth).  Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom wilkinson) tries to put off civil rights to a later date.  FBI chief Hoover (Dylan Baker) tries to slander King.  Malcolm X (Nigel Thatch) is the scarier alternative to King’s non violence. Carmen Ejogo plays Coretta Scott King.

Review

Selma commendably avoids the sentimental trap of epiphanous moments on the self congratulatory road to liberal democratic heaven.  There is no ambushing of the film by a white film star (as there might have been until recently).  David Oyelowo avoids the sort of statuesque dignity which would turn King into a black Lincoln.  He has affairs and is humanly flawed yet is a powerful presence.  His funeral and political ovations are musical and stirring.  His decision to ‘retreat’ after the second march on the Edmond Pettus bridge is all the more impressive for its subtle selflessness.  The focal scene in Selma is the march on the bridge, its role as a symbol is obvious.  In numerous films bridges have been critical meeting points and the reality of that is bloodily illustrated in Selma.  Malcolm X is there to act as a reminder that radical opinion might view non violence as an Uncle Tom tactic, that martyrdom was a useless gesture in the face of white power, speaking of which, Lyndon Johnston does look as cynically self serving as any politician condescendingly acknowledging that civil rights is morally fine but not an immediate priority.  J Edgar Hoover looks like a well groomed rat and behaves like one.  Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King also avoids the stereotype of purse lipped dignity foisted on so many black actors in these sort of films.  The Kings have to deal with the simplified image of the good man of poetic rheetoric and the reality of a middle class couple caught up in the terrors of civil rights and the emotional torments of marital infidelity.  There is a memorable scene at the beginning of Selma in which Oprah Winfrey is asked to prove her eligibility in registering for the vote.  She’s undone by the simple malice of institutionalised injustice.  A triumphant film.

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2015 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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Still Alice

Still Alice film posterSynopsis

Based on a novel by neuroscientist Lisa Genova starring Julianne Moore as Alice, a professor of linguistics who, after becoming forgetful of words and on one occasion of her whereabouts, is told she will suffer Alzheimer’s disease.  Still Alice follows the emotional impact on herself and her family.  Her husband is played by Alec Baldwin.  Her daughter Lydia (Kirsten Stewart) learns there is a likelihood of her being a future sufferer.  Alice becomes increasingly helpless as the disease takes hold.

Review

Back in the ’80s and ’90s there were films about social issues such as domestic violence and depression and these were dealt with in an often bland fashion.   Given our supposed advances since then in cultural sensitivity Still Alice manages to look like Hollywood looking after it’s own.  It’s fortunate that Alice is affluent and surrounded by caring academic liberals who are all smart, and of course, beautiful.  The prospects for those of lower status, or the poor, would be so much grimmer thus unfit for mainstream viewing.  Given these limitations, the film just about manages to convey the menace to domesticity in the way of thrillers.  You get the early scenes of domestic bliss (usually the family has just moved into a new home) and then the threat arises.  It’s a neat way of melodramatizing for a two hour production.  The cold panic in loss of memory and control are reasonably shown, and the film largely avoids the trap of facile sentimentality that you might get in a film about cancer, but only just.There is poetic acknowledgement of the role of memory in identity and of course the loss of this is the horror.  There is a quote from the poet Elizabeth Bishop in the speech Alice gives about possible responses to its onset.  Alice arranges for her suicide when the disease takes over.  Leaving the shower gel in the fridge is a startling sign of the disease.  Still Alice avoids the physical effects (except for incontinence because of not being able to find the bathroom), so is this an evasion of a responsibility to deal with reality?  Emotional coping is what the family has to offer but of course we can’t know the subjective reality of Alzheimer’s.  There is need to go further in this subject.

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2015 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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It Follows

It Follows film posterSynopsis

The curse of being followed by demons is sexually transmitted.  After having sex with her boyfriend Hugh (Jake Weary) who is followed by demons, Joy (Maike Monroe) is in turn pursued.  She can only pass it on by having sex and she does.  This has tragic consequences, the demons brutally attack their victims.  If the latest carrier dies then the curse returns to the previous carrier.

Review

This comes across as a parable about sex, death, and moral consequences as if written by Jose Saramago.  There is no soft blue light at night time but there are other regular features of horror films: teens engaged in one- upmanship, the lonely nerd who tries to impress the girl, the curiously absent or useless parents, high school confrontations.  This has been touted as different from the pack of horror films but it’s a familiar mixture of horror films we know well.  It’s like Nightmare on Elm Street and any number of zombie and vampire movies.  Originality is stretched thinly around the bare framework of the story, all Kafka on amphetamines.  The demons are slow walking oddities and this makes them scarier, they are ill dressed but implacable in their pursuit of victims.  The sheer ineluctability of the chase is the hobgoblin here, you don’t wake up from the nightmare.  There is a confrontation with Joy’s demon in the swimming pool, the violence becomes desperate in the urge to make the unseen seen.  It Follows is like a throwback to David Lynch’s view of the sinister threat lurking under the Stepford anality of prissy surburbia.  There is a sinister focus on natural scenes that might suddenly erupt in a threat, feeding teen paranoia.  It shows a love of retro that does not refer to a specific era: there are corded telephones, awful black and white sci-fi on TV, a picture palace cinema.  It Follows moves in the right direction towards better horror, but there is still a long walk ahead.

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2015 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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Birdman

Birdman film posterSynopsis

Director Iñárritu‘s film starring Michael Keaton (Riggan Thomson) as an actor who was once a star in a ’90s Birdman franchise.  Now he’s on Broadway acting Raymomd Carver’s What we Talk about when we Talk about Love with Edward Norton as Mike Shiner.  It’s about the frantic egotism of putting on this play.  Emma Stone is his ex-druggie daughter.  The hallucinatory appearance of Birdman speaks terse truths to Riggan.  He walks through Broadway in his underpants inadvertently starting a new kind of realistic theatre.  He has Birdman visions.

Review

The camera follows Riggan around, so you feel as if you’ve asked to take part in the hectically claustrophobic self absorption of the characters.  The similarity of Birdman to Keaton’s own Birdman is of course entirely intentional.  The seeming real time ducking and weaving of the camera parodies the hand held breathlessness pioneered by the Blair Witch Project, but here it gets us into dark places as Riggan learns some hard truths about himself both as a neglectful and selfish parent of Sam and as an actor from the aptly named Shiner.  Edward Norton’s Shiner is a perfect mickey take of all those tediously obvious method actors that we first saw playing themselves in beatnik sets in the ’50s, the Lee Strasberg school of actorly self consciousness.  The rapid fire incestuous in-jokes about actors recall the similar smug self regard in Betty Davis All about Eve.  In Birdman the actors are expected to be predatory, vain, arrogant, and abrasive and they don’t disappoint.  In Birdman it’s often difficult to draw the line between parody of theatrical vanity and the transparent celebration of that very vanity.   Keaton’s facial gurning draws on his recent performance in Other Guys, like electrified facetiousness.  Are we supposed to congratulate Keaton on his candid self exposure, or his acting at being self revealing?  For all the actors the film looks like an exercise in self therapy helped by energetic jazz music that gives the whole film an unrehearsed feel.  The camera is as energetic and confrontational as the dialogue, as it expressionistically pans over the theatre, streets, and roof tops. Is being punch drunk from the camera and dialogue the same as any exhausting insight into one’s self or others?  What ever the answer might be, it’s occasionally fun.

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2015 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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