RSS

Monthly Archives: February 2012

Young Adult

Young Adult posterSynopsis

This film, produced by Juno director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody, stars Charlize Theron as Mavis Gary who was a prom queen at her school in Mercury, Minnesota.  Twenty years on she is a writer of children’s books.  She is a divorcee, an alcoholic, and she pulls hair out of her head.  She meets up with a former student, Matt Freehauf played by Patton Oswalt, who’d been beaten up on the mistaken assumption that he was gay.  He is the plump nerd who worships the prom queen.  Theron’s scheme is to win back her former boyfriend Buddy, played by Patrick Wilson.  He is happily married and has a child.  Theron causes embarrassment at the christening…

Criticism

This is about the potentially hazardous business of the nostalgic return to earlier life.  Theron is dissatisfied with her situation and she wants a triumph, to snatch her ex-boyfriend from his wife.  She is so confident of her ability to do that, one is persuaded that arrogance and vanity are beside the point, it’s something that has to happen.  Theron’s cheekbones don’t seem that high, so it’s the nose and eyes, right?  She treats (plump nerd) with polite disdain, then a sort of friendliness as she learns what happened to him.  This film spurns the chance to be a direct comedy of manners, it lacks wit and perception.  Theron should be the charismatic gang leader and trend setter who everybody wants to be with, the sort of superbitch whose jokes everyone laughs at, and whose cruelty everyone wants to preen themselves on her reflected glory, but here she’s a psychological accident zone and ends up looking petulantly sad.  Apart from the amiable Patrick Wilson, you wouldn’t want to spend too much time with any of these people, they are stuck in a provincial rut and don’t care to leave it.  Minneapolis is the big city they dream of.

When a person returns to their alma mater, what can happen is either embarrassment, revenge, expiation, or appeasement.  Ironically, the embarrassment comes from the ex-prom queen but the characters whose lives are mundane, see no reason to apologise for anything.  Revenge is a non starter since no-one has done her any harm.  Expiation is not in order, though Theron should apologise for her behaviour.  Appeasement is unnecessary since there are no outstanding concerns.  Theron presumably blames Wilson for not guaranteeing her present happiness, but was he expected to wait?  There don’t seem to be any Sliding Door moments in this film, no painful entering into a fateful decision.  It’s all well enough acted but there’s the feeling of a missed opportunity.

.

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on February 22, 2012 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Carnage

Carnage posterSynopsis

Based on a play by Yasmina Reza, it’s supposed to be set in a New York apartment, but was filmed in Paris because Roman Polanski (the director) cannot film in America.  The film starts with an argument between two boys, one of them strikes the other in the mouth with a stick.  Then we go to the apartment where the parents of the two boys try to reach a satisfactory decision which will prevent any recourse to the legal option.  The parents of the offending boy are played by Kate Winslet, who is Nancy Cowan an investment banker, and Christopher Waltz plays Alan a corporation lawyer.  The parents of the injured boy are Michael Langstreet, played by John C Reilly, and Penelope Langstreet played by Jodie Foster.  Their initially sociable politeness ends in raging acrimony.  The film ends with the two boys having a friendly chat.

Criticism

The title of this film promises predatory behaviour, a Bunuel tea party where bourgeoise politeness will be ripped away.  Since Nietzsche made us aware of Christian hypocrisy and self deception, one of our favourite blood sports is to see the chattering classes stripping the effete convention of politeness from each other, to reveal the ravening egomaniac beneath.  These are affluent cage fighters, whose cage is the smart apartment trip-wired with faux pas giveaways of the anxious social climber.  Polanski has set his films in confined domestic spaces, the affluent respectability accentuating the lurking threat of a psychological disintegration.  The main problem with this film is that these couples become too easy targets.  Penelope (Foster) is so obviously a brittle and hysterical control freak and coffee table liberal that she barely merits satire.  She is humourless and screechingly self righteous, the very epitome of the politically correct crusader.  The rippling latex of her face easily contorts with rage.  She is ready to defend herself against imagined or real assaults on her insecurely contrived dignity.  Her husband Mike (John Reilly) has a prosaic job compared to the more glamorous careers of Nancy and Alan, so they must suspect that they might be the recipients of condescension which makes them in turn even more ready to lash out.  Alan plays the usual middle class game of status-driven put downs but Mike in turn mocks his role in corporate corruption.  Alan keeps answering his mobile phone, to the eventual exasperation of Nancy who drops it in the tulip vase.  The Cowans nearly exit the cage door twice but return to resume hostilities.  On one occasion Nancy improbably comes back for more argument when she could have easily walked away.  We can almost see Polanski (himself pretty corrupt and feral when we look at his biography) prodding the protagonists back through the cage bars.  Nancy vomits over Penelope’s art books, so we wonder how lavatorial the shouting match is going to get.  Their slanging match is then fired by whiskey and we get the descent by Alan into self pity.  Argument seems sustained, but what we get towards the end is a solipsistic scream for help as each character undermines the other’s sincerity in self awareness.  They flatter themselves with the illusion of getting rid of illusions.  We are reminded here of the role of self deception in our everyday social exchanges and how difficult it is to be honest, how lying is socially necessary.  Even the whiskey sodden revelations seem just pre-emptive claims of sincerity that self-servingly sustain the phoniness. The film wallows in this and tries to make us complicit in our self recognition.  It’s artificial and forced and is an unsubtle symptom of our malaise.   One thinks of those films driven by laurating honesty, those by Tenessee Williams and Arthur Miller.

Entertaining but unconvincing, like watching actors rehearsing a play about naughty people.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on February 22, 2012 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

The Descendants

The Descendants posterSynopsis

Set in present day Hawaii starring George Clooney as Matt, a lawyer whose wife is in a coma after a boating accident.  He wants to be with his daughters to await the outcome of his wife’s accident.  His older daughter is accompanied by her boyfriend who has had a recent bereavement.  His older daughter tells him his wife had had an affair with Brian Spears.  Matt has some unspoilt land in trust and he will sell it to rake in a fortune, Spears, he learns, will be involved in the business deal.  He wants to confront Spears and tell him about his wife’s condition.  Will Spears visit her?  Matt and his family visit his wife Elizabeth and await the doctor’s verdict.  Will Matt sign away the land?

Criticism

When I was young we got Hawaii Five O on TV, a cop series.  The music was brash and local Hawiian culture was acknowledged in an offhand and touristy way.  Half a century later we get ecological sensitivity and cultural diversity in the guardianship of Matt the patron saint of liberal chic and right-on rhetoric.  The US takeover of Hawaii was of course colonialist and although he has some indigenous Hawiian  ancestry, we realize that Matt is effectively a beneficiary of colonialist theft.  He stresses that the land is in trust to his family but he can make millions of dollars out of it, it’s his to dispose of.  Matt reminds us in voice over that Hawaii is no paradise but shares the same problems as the rest of the world, as if we needed to be told that  This introducing us to the wise guy commentator whose observations about quirkiness are meant to be hilarious, not so in The Descendants.  This film seems to share similarities with Little Miss Sunshine and Juno but lacks the wit and comic inventiveness of those films.  Alexander Payne directed this and it reminds me of his other unlovely look at middle class, middle aged, male, self pity about the wine boozers in Sideways (2004).  Considering the things he goes through in this story Matt seems remarkably unchanged, we get Clooney’s same smug one-expression-that-fits-all-occasions at the end as at the beginning.  I could be missing something here but to me Clooney exploits his easy on the eye appearance to keep you waiting for some intelligent riposte, but you often get a banal remark.  Juno and Little Miss Sunshine benefit from quirky characters caught in comical situations often based on incongruities of appearance, manner, and intention with the surrounding social contexts but Matt’s character is always in charge, his wounded vanity guilt-tripping the man who cuckolded him.  There is no room for comic misunderstandings.  The lad is mildly amusing, he gets a whack on the face from Elizabeth’s father who blames Matt for not giving his daughter the money for a better life.  This guy is avaricious and unlikeable.  The wronged wife commiserates with Matt in the hospital, and the over all tone is sentimental.  Matt gets a chance to save the unspoilt land in the face of pressure from his avaricious family (especially Beau Bridges).

None of the characters are likeable.  The two daughters are motor-mouthed attitudes and it’s not heartwarming.  An unlikeable and unpleasant film

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on February 16, 2012 in All-time favourites, Film Reviews

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Woman in Black

The Woman in Blck posterSynopsis

Based on Susan Hill’s novel, it’s about a clerk Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) who is sent to do legal work about the deceased Mrs Drablow.  Kipps’ wife has died, he has a son.  Travelling to the village near Eel Marsh House (where she lived) he meets Sam (Ciaran Hinds) who is the local rich man whose son has died and whose wife is mentally ill.  Kipps gets a frosty reception from villagers.  He is taken to Eel Marsh House and he looks over her papers, he sees a mysterious woman in black.  He visits Sam and then a couple of children in the village die and their deaths happen under the influence of the Woman in Black.  Sam and Kipps return to the house after retrieving the corpse of Mrs Drablows’s boy and more spookiness happens.  Kipps is at the railway station reunited with his son and…

Criticism

Susan Hill’s novel has been a TV film, a long running play, on the radio, and now on film.  Each is fairly different from the book and this film departs from the original story quite often, to the dismay of readers who find the book scary.  I had high hopes for this, I wanted it to succeed.  On the positive side, there is a skilfully creepy atmosphere to the house.  The sound of the ghost’s rocking chair is scary but it could not build up into real terror.  The puppets are sinister and there are claustrophobic terrors in the oppressive heaviness of Victorian domestic decor.  The details of Victoriana  are well observed: the spinning Zoetrope, the pictures of the dead, the heavy wooden beds and wardrobes which loom up in their forest of shadows and sinister silences – Norman Bates would be quite at home.  Alas the film undermines all this, it cannot sustain mystery or nuance.  Money must be to blame for its inevitable crassness: the muddied child looming out of the bedsheets, the Woman in Black herself looks like a lard face with conjunctivitis.  Her best moment was when she was an indistinct shadow from the grave but that could not be sustained.  Daniel Ratcliffe was brought in to bolster the teenager presence in the audience but the character needs someone older able to convey the range of emotions from tragic parenthood, to professional self confidence, and then to terror.  It’s all very well claiming that ghost stories are about reclaiming memory, suffering loss, and gaining redemption but those sound like excuses for not ratcheting up the scariness which the book could do and the film doesn’t deliver emotionally.  It goes for the claim on our emotions that mainstream cinema over exploits, it guarantees hatred of the Woman in Black because like a female Herod, she’s all doom for children.  Janet McTeer as the bereaved posh mother acts more woodenly than the local yokels (who are the usual villagers with a dark secret who won’t talk to strangers).  This film also suffers from geographical confusion, we get the Yorkshire Dales round the village which amazingly is only a short ride from the marshes of East Anglia.  The stolid village folk gurn in Yorkshire accents but Keckwith who takes Kipps out to the house, is an East Anglian Barkis.

This is a sadly squandered opportunity as it lets Susan Hill’s story down badly.  Here are my Top Five  Scariest Films of all Time:

1) The Dead of Night (1945)

2) The Others (2000)

3) The Exorcist (1973)

4) Whistle and I’ll Come (1968)

5) The Haunting (1963 – definitely not the crass 1999 one)

.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on February 14, 2012 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

The Grey

The Grey posterSynopsis

Set in Alaska in the snow and pine forests where wolf packs live.  Liam Neeson plays a rifleman who is hired by a petroleum company to hunt wolves that attack people.  He is a loner who longs for his wife and nearly kills himself.  He is on a plane with rough frontier people.  The plane crashes in icy wilderness and as Neeson uses his skills to become the leader facing down macho competition from the surviving group.  They all face death,,,

Criticism

The film starts out with the stereotypically rugged loner with an emotionally difficult past, and he’s on a plane with familiarly rugged attitudes and faces you find in many westerns.  The plane crashes and I wondered if we were in for Lost with ice and snow.  Instead a very watchable film survived the early crash.  We have also seen lots of survival films in which the best and strongest guy prevails over the inevitable challenge to his natural authority.  When his leadership is contested we expect his rivals to be motivated by weakness and cynical self disappointment and The Grey has quite a bit of that  Then we get a creepy family man telling the group about his relationship with his family, this is the survival equivalent of the war film in which a soldier shows an enemy soldier his family photograph in order to establish his credentials as a human being under the uniform.  The Grey does all this but it works, after all what would people in extreme situations talk to one another about?  The simplified confrontations are used for the benefit of the film because of the limitations of time.  We wouldn’t pay to watch a film where someone just mumbles inanely in the snow for a couple of hours, would we? Come to think of it, that’s what we get in a lot of mainstream films anyway.

The Grey does a creditable job of steering us through and beyond the usual confrontational reliabilities:  winning over the sneering cynic, the sensitive guy dying, the bloody minded maverick who finally realizes he can’t make it without the others, the ritualized recognition of our animality (they eat a wolf’s carcass and one of the characters hacks off the wolf’s head in a sort of blood rite).  Throughout all this, Liam Neeson emerges as a monument of stern self reliance, his features like a bony mask of patience and suffering.  A sort of nature mysticism welds their solidarity in the face of icy wilderness and predatory wolves who stalk them.  When people face unwanted ordeals  of pain and endurance (like surviving in wildernesses and enduring childbirth) it shows the pathetically childish nonsense of machismo in stark relief, and people will suffer what they can the more reluctantly, the more heroically.  The Grey is at its best when it shows all this.  They have to get off a mountain by crossing over to the forest below and one of them falls and crashes into the trees hallucinating his daughter as he dies.  Their acceptance of probable death is what endows these otherwise unremarkable people with tragic heroism.  There is dark humour and then acceptance of death.  This reminded me of Jack London stories also set in the Alaskan forests.  Watching this film is a bit like studying a manuel for survival after a plane crash.  We learn that wolves have to be faced down in a confrontation, that the alpha wolf will send in a low status wolf to test the opposition.  Mercifully in The Grey we don’t hear about cannibalism or get any cannibal jokes, the main thing is to build a fire and eat the wolves.

A spectacular adventure.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on February 8, 2012 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Intruders

Intruders posterSynopsis

This synopsis (indeed the review) is a spoiler, so if you don’t want to know the end it’s best not to read this before you see the film.  This is a Spanish film about two children, one in Spain and one in England.  The Spanish lad has nightmares about a hooded intruder in his room and he cannot catch him.  His mother takes him to the church but the priests can’t help.  In England a girl has visions of a hooded intruder and she calls him Hollowface.  The father (Clive Owen) helps his daughter fight the intruder.  The girl is taken to a psychiatrist and the camera installed in her bedroom reveals that Owen is fighting no-one.  The Spanish boy and Clive Owen are the same person.  The hooded visitor in Spain is the Spanish boy’s father trying to get to him.

Criticism

Not well received by critics, but I found it enjoyable.  It’s labelled as a supernatural thriller, but it’s really a psychological mystery story and it’s effective.  If a film like this cannot be scary then it should keep you guessing and this film does that.  It leads you like a thread through a labyrinth of clues and these give the film the appearance of a symbolic ritual.  It reminds me in particular of a horror film in the 1980s (I can’t remember the title).  It was about a girl whose crayonings of a picture created a horror scenario which depended on how she had to finish it.  In Intruders we get Harry Potter suburbs and an ordinary household where  domestic details seem to emphasize the threat of otherworldliness such as ghostly hooded visitors.  Interestingly, what we don’t get is American horror familiarities, it’s a Spanish film so the bogeyman looks like the monster from that Goya painting (see Pan’s Labyrinth).  Unlike priests in American films, the Spanish priests are not weepy eyed and credulous, they are hard bitten and sceptical and think they are dealing with a case for the psychiatrist.  Since The Exorcist it seems obligatory to show psychiatrists as well meaning but rather wimpy people and so they are in this film.  The special effects are confined to arty intrusions into everyday life:  the Arthur Rackham-like tree coming to life and the liquid shadow of the bogeyman, there is no idiotic overkill.  The Spanish lad clambers onto the iron scaffolding outside his window, and as an adult welder on high rise girders he has another vision of Hollowface: childhood and adulthood on iron beams, then the natural resolution in the branches of a tree – quite symbolic.  The boy and Clive Owen being the same person is an interesting touch, I assumed that they were different people.

A fascinating horror fantasy.

 
 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Coriolanus

Coriolanus posterSynopsis

Based on the Shakespearean play about the Roman general and his contempt for the common people.  He is successful in his fight against Aufidius (Gerald Butler) and his Volscians but then Coriolanus is exiled and joins Aufidius to attack Rome.  His mother Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave) moves him to pity but Aufidius feels he’s been let down by Coriolanus…

Criticism

This is a modern Serbian setting for Shakespeare’s Roman play.  My only problem with modern appearance using 17th century dialogue is the mismatch that jars in the use of 17th century imagery.  The iambic pentameters come out like machine gun bullets.  Ralph Fienne’s performance as Coriolanus has been praised, which is deserved as he’s managed to make this haughtily patrician brute something resembling a human being.  However this is where 21st century military costume lets down the Roman play, Coriolanus does not look like a remote aristocrat barely able to condescend to the Roman mob, he looks like a populist warlord mucking in with everybody in his combat gear.  The bombed buildings and the corrugated iron encampments of a city under fire give the film a primal urgency which then can mix explosively with Shakespeare.  Vanessa Redgrave’s Volumnia is of course Shakespearean actor aristocracy.  Jessica Chastian hasn’t much to say as Coriolanus’ wife, but then she can’t compete with Volumnia.  Brian Cox is Menenius and plays him like a world weary but ultimately a well meaning and avuncular figure.  James Nesbitt and Paul Jesson play the tribunes of the people and in this film look like seedy mob manipulators.  Because of the visually induced anachronisms in the language there are scenes which are a bit comical in a sort of gentle Monty Python-ish way, Jon Snow is a newscaster speaking Shakespearean English (he is a familiar face from British television’s Channel Four).  The two tribunes are assaulted verbally and physically by V. Redgrave on the steps of the government building.  Gerald Butler as Aufidius is action man with a nice line in metaphors, it does sometimes work.

This enjoyable film makes me want to go back to the text.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on February 6, 2012 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: