Monthly Archives: June 2012


Cosmopolis posterSynopsis

Don DeLillo’s novella from 2003 Cosmopolis is directed by David Cronenberg.  Robert Pattinson plays a Wall Street trader called Eric Packer, he gets into a stretch limo to go across Manhattan to get a hair cut.  His bodyguard tells him about threats to his life and to that of the President.  Juliette Binoche has sex with him in his car, Samantha Morton gets in and talks, then a black friend tells him about an Islamic rapper whose funeral is passing by.  Packer meets his wife in a library and in a cafe where demonstrators fling rats at the customers (rats are spoken of as units of currency).  Packer speaks of buying a Rothko gallery, he shoots his bodyguard and ends up having a long dialogue with Paul Giamatti’s disgruntled employee who wants to kill Packer…


A film critic has noted the similarities between Cosmopolis and The Swimmer (which I have reviewed).  In The Swimmer Burt Lancaster plays an American man of success whose journey through swimming pools leads to misery and despair, an effective parable on Vietnam.  Cosmopolis is different from The Swimmer insofar as Packer (unlike Lancaster) does not start out with any illusions.  Packer is a multi millionaire nihilist who looks as if he wants some sort of closure as he intends to travel to an old seedy hairdressers New York.  Lancaster in The Swimmer never expected to end up in squalor.  People Packer meet do not disillusion him, they and he exchange observations on the nature of money, sex, time, and death.  Packer seems unconcerned that his car is graffitied by protesters, he is not even fazed by being attacked.

Packer and his guests talk elliptically, allusively, and sometimes philosophically.  Now and again it can sound like pretentious waffle, full of cod wisdom about capitalism’s cannibalistic tendencies, about the nullity of wealth, about the meaning of desire for wealth and the futility of individual protest.  Although the film is suposed to be about the present (written just before the credit crunch) it does seem more futurist.  The limo glides around a New York that seems to have more in common with Blade Runner and even I Robot.  When they pass an Islamic funeral cortege in which a rapper’s hearse is accompanied by Dervishes, one thinks of the ethnic mixture of Blade Runner.  The decadence of the wealth/poverty juxtaposition reminds us of the cliche of dystopia:  of the unrealizability of perfection and the illusions of Utopia.  Packer gets out of his gilded limo to wander in a world of poverty and chaos.  When he talks to the Giamatti character, they speak in a broken down block of flats fit for Samuel Becket dialogue.  Giamatti turns the cliche of the disgruntled victim of corporate hubris into a theological tortured mystic.  Packer himself is a mixture of Citizen Kane (we wonder if his haircut is a kind of “Rosebud” quest, a sort of metonym of a lost paradise), The Man who Fell to Earth, and Howard Hughes (like Hughes, Packer is the beneficiary of obsessive medical check ups).  Comparisons with Gordon Gekko of Wall Street are misplaced, Packer has no time for the childish tripe of “greed is good”.  Packer is bemused by his own power, how he can buy not just a Rothko, but a whole gallery of his paintings.  Possession of a Rothko is of course a status symbol of wealth, the abstract expressionist dark chambers of this suicidal painter seem a perfect backdrop for the morbidity of unaccountable riches.

The car journey is that of the soul immersed in the degradations of capitalist commodification.  This suits David Cronenberg’s concerns, he has made for example Naked Lunch and The Fly where reality has been violently subverted to a deranged visionary project, in Cosmopolis capitalism does this.  The dialogue would repay a couple more visits to this film.  Pattinson acquits himself well as an anti-hero, bland and in love with death, in this superb moral fable about capitalism.


Posted by on June 20, 2012 in All-time favourites, Film Reviews


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The Angels’ Share

The Angels' Share posterSynopsis

Set in Glasgow at the start, it’s a film by Ken Loach about a group of offenders at Glasgow’s City Court.  They get community service under the supervision of Harry (John Henshaw), a Mancunian.  He mentors Robbie (Peter Brannigan), who is on a serious assault charge, but his girlfriend is pregnant so he’s on community service.  Robbie is pursued by vicious thugs and his girlfriend’s father tries to pack him off to London.  Harry gets the offenders interested in whiskey, and at a whiskey tasting conference in Edinburgh they learn about a very expensive whiskey.  They go up to northern Scotland where this whiskey is being auctioned.  They steal it and plan to sell it.  Robbie does a deal with a buyer’s agent and they might live happily ever after…


This is another film by Ken Loach in which the jolly capers of crime have replaced the political debates of his earlier films.  In Looking for Eric  Eric Cantona and friends get revenge on Mancunian gangsters, here the thuggish Robbie finds a purpose in his skilled taste for whiskey but he’s still a criminal as he gets one up on the world.  This is like a jokey Cooke’s Tour of working class Scotland.  Loach, like Mike Leigh, has a lifelong interest in the quaint anthropology of the working now under-class and its brutal life.  Here the working class gets the less noble savage treatment (as opposed to the political films), presumably he’s given up on attempts at socialist politics.  Apparently, Robbie and his friends are not professional actors, so they display the usual wooden self-consciousness of the non- professional.  This is supposed to make things more authentic, after all aren’t the underclass uneducated and inarticulate?  They use their wits to get the hugely expensive whiskey and make money from it, but it looks just like another attempt at caper hilarity.  There is no redemption for Robbie through inner struggle, just him and his friends getting the better of other people.

In Harry Loach recycles the kindly mentor role of Colin Welland in Kes and he looks like Brian Glover (the sports teacher from that film).  There is the same superior fascination with the antics of working people with a hobby, in Kes it’s the training of a kestrel and in Angels’ Share it’s whiskey.  Robbie and co have learned nothing except to steal from the rich (a barrel of whiskey worth a million pounds), yet we’re supposed to find this pseudo-Robin Hood stuff quite endearing.  Loach has stopped making thoughtful films and now looks as if he is theme-parking the sad remnants of the industrial working class for global consumption.  The Angels’ Share of the title refers to the 2% of whiskey that evaporates in the cask throughout the year, and it looks as if we don’t get much more in the way of a sympathetic film.  An unlikeable and exploitative film.

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Posted by on June 13, 2012 in At the cinema, Film Reviews


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Prometheus posterSynopsis

Ridley Scott’s prequel to Alien, though it has been denied that it is.  Scientists Noomi Rapace (Elizabeth Shaw) and Logan Marshall Green (Holloway) discover cave paintings showing giants pointing to the stars.  Then in 2093 a spaceship travels to outer space.  On board is an android (Michael Fassbender playing David) who wakes the crew up, and they explore the moon they’re on, which orbits a ringed planet.  Charlize Theron plays Meredith Vickers, head of the Weylon Corporation.  The scientists want answers to our origins, Vickers has other priorities.  The crew explore a giant installation and they find alien eggs and they are attacked by these aliens.  They find a giant humanoid, a survivor of the spaceship.  Will the humanoid attack the crew and what will the aliens do…..?


In spite of protestations to the contrary, this is the prequel to Alien.  Ironically, of course, the earlier events in this 2012 film enjoy the benefit of advanced cinematic technology unavailable to the later events of the 1979 film.  There is little hint here of how the world of the Alien film could be tacky and picaresque, the antiseptic hi-tech of Prometheus would preclude this.   Prometheus is closer in appearance to the blander, more amenably hi-tech, world of 2001.  Prometheus is pre-occupied with life and death, the nature of mortality, and our own origins.  Elizabeth Shaw is committed to our being created by a high intelligence, so she is no Darwinist.  If you think about this, then a lot of sci-fi must be inimical to Darwin because it insists on the creation of artificial and natural life, even in 2001 there was the intervention of a black monolith to get us going.  Elizabeth Shaw wants to know why the giants turned against humans.

Ridley Scott also explores the boundary of human and non human intelligence in the relationship between the android David and the scientists.  Scott explored this in Blade Runner (1982) when the androids poignantly aspire to human status.  David likes to watch Lawrence of Arabia, no doubt identifying with Lawrence’s indifference to ordinary behaviour.  David seems essentially benign, which makes Ridley’s later fear of androids less excusable.

The dialogue between the crew members is mostly professional, political, and not disinterested.  The Weylon Corporation behaves in a sinisterly secretive fashion.  The scientists do not work as a team, more like business rivals.

Prometheus takes us back to the hollow installation with its Giger style that we first saw in Alien.  The look is all metallic insect exo-skeleton.  It is a sort of organic geometry which reminds me of Gaudi’s Barcelona architecture.  The humanoid giants look like Michelin men from the car tyre commercial and their eyes make them look like they’re wearing giant sapphires as contact lenses  The aliens have of course become familiar, and in Prometheus the parameters of their appearance have only extended a little.  Now they look like tattooed multi-eyed octopi.  Their modus operandi are insect like and parasitic.

Prometheus elaborates on the Alien scenario rather than explaining it, presumably to leave scope for a sequel, which looks likely given the ending.

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Posted by on June 12, 2012 in At the cinema, Film Reviews


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