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Monthly Archives: November 2012

Skyfall

Skyfall posterSynopsis

Latest Bond film in which Daniel Craig tries to track down a list of his colleagues targeted by an ex-insider Silva (Javier Bardem).  He is shot chasing an enemy agent in Turkey.  He goes into hiding and when Silva attacks MI6 headquarters killing six employees.  Bond returns and fights with his foe from Turkey in Shanghai, and in Macau meets Severine (Bérénice Marlohe).  Silva’s a prisoner, escapes and searches for Bond and Q (Judi Dench) who stays in Skyfall Bond’s Scottish home…

Criticism

I read somewhere that the author of the Bond books, Ian Fleming, overheard his wife and the critic Cyril Connally laughing aloud from a Bond novel.  Then in 1962  Dr No turned up and Fleming did not care for Connery as Bond.  Skyfall is the 50th anniversary film.  From hack lowbrow paperbacks Bond has achieved cultural significance.  From being a working class fantasy the franchise has now become a popular cultural phenomenon yet in content it’s still the same old escapist infantile nonsense.  What’s interesting is how the film has tracked cultural change over the years.  From the ’60s consumerist aspirations we get the jaded effeteness of Moore, then the classier hi-tech Brosnan, and now we get Daniel Craig competing with Batman, Bourne, Bruce Willis and co.  The Bond movie has gone from self parody to self congratulatory self referencing in occasionally poignant ways.  One heart tugging plot of this Bond film is the relationship between M and Bond.  She is his mother, sister, and overall confidante.   M is threatened with retirement by Ralph Fiennes’ Malory, then she is up before a government enquiry into MI6 activities.  She eloquently (if not too convincingly) fights her corner as she explains the changed nature of the enemy: not cold war transparency but the opacity of the terrorist who can be anybody, the case for hi-tech paranoia.  How do you, though, make war on terror if terror is the result of war in the first place?  War makes war on the result of war?  This leads us to the strange business of cold war espionage as such, it is inherently futile since neither side could be allowed to win because both cold war enemies were symbiotically sustaining bureaucracies, mirror images providing a mutual raison d’etre:  M then quotes from Tennyson to illustrate her beliefs then we cut to Silva and his goons intending to kill M (this is borrowed from Coppola’s Godfather christening scene cutting to gangster killings).

Q is now played by Ben Whishaw.  The lab clowning has been replaced by a serious young computer nerd equipping Bond with a gun only he can use.  There are rueful comments on youth and age.  Moneypenny is played by Naomie Harris, she starts out in the field but goes back to the office.  Bond himself has to retrain in MI6’s new underground headquarters.  The icy killing machine of previous films is still there but now he is self lacerating, the human flaws more apparent beneath the flippant thuggish-ness.  The heterosexual athlete of the 20th century is even prepared to admit being gay.  The franchise is in the confessional box even as it continues to wallow in Brit smugness (after its helicopter stunt in the 2012 Olympics).  Javier Bardem as the villain is plausibly complicated, he is wounded by what he sees as M’s capacity for treachery and deceit, the villain-good guy boundaries have become more nuanced and uncertain.

The killer gadgets here are the computer, a tube train, and a Shanghai elevator.  One fight sequence is back-dropped by a giant screen showing a jellyfish, so we go from cold hi-tech to tortured family issues in a grimly austere Scottish house.  I suppose this is meant to be a journey from sin to redemption.  We  get more sentimental referencing as Bond uses the Goldfinger Aston Martin (M makes a joke about being ejected from it).  Nature’s dangers are macho fetishes: the scorpion poised on his hand as he drinks, the fight in a Komodo dragon pit.

There is frantic action enough for the Bond fan, and it could be the best of the lot as it raises a glass of fifty year old malt whiskey.  It is after all directed by Sam Mendes.  Reliable action man nonsense.

Bérénice Marlohe
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Posted by on November 14, 2012 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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Argo

Argo film posterSynopsis

About the American hostage crisis in Iran in 1979-80.  America is the big enemy for harbouring the Shah, so the revolutionary guards want to capture the Americans besieged in their embassy.  Six of the US staff escape to the Canadian embassy.  Ben Affleck plays CIA official Tony Mendez, his idea is to get them out by posing as a film crew making a sci-fi movie Argo in Iran.  He enlists the movie experience of Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) and Jon Chambers (John Goodman).  Affleck and co escape from the Canadian embassy but can they get to the airport and escape?

Critique

This is a heist movie and a comedy about Hollywood.  There is a lot of fun at Hollywood’s expense (its image problem in that era symbolised by the dilapidated Hollywood sign) as Siegel and Chambers show how cheesy a lot of these sub Star Trek films actually are.  The film set in Iran is a grim story with reminders of The Killing Fields.  Both films show desperate westerners stuck in embassies whilst revolutionary retribution swirls around outside.  The film tells us Mohammed Mossedeg was ousted in 1953 by a US and UK designed coup that replaced him with the Shah and his vile police, the Savak.  This insured the bitter hatred of the largely Shia Muslim population.  Though the film acknowledges Iranian anger in its voice over, it still rendered the people cartoonishly hate ridden and mean, and I found this grossly unfair.  No doubt this ratchets the tension but it does nothing to dispel the stereotypes that still seem to prevail in the west’s attitude towards the post 1979 Iran (and I say this as one who detests Islamic fundamentalism).  It is as if this movie cannot help itself showing the usual decent Americans battling against an anti-American world.  We get a lingering view of how these people face a crisis and self congratulatory flag waving at the end of it.  An Iranian who had suffered in Savak’s dungeons might have a different view of this (although the Ayatollah regime easily matched Savak in cruelty).  The tension is skilfully handled, though the film does resort to a few familiarities; the besieged car, the last minute heart stopping fears in the airport, the deteriorating group dynamics staffed by the loud hysteric opposed by the reasonable voice of calm.  We get the usual details about the 70s: oversized spectacles, bad hair and moustaches, bad clothes and overflowing ashtrays.  Affleck’s Mendez is all steely decency, he barely manages any expression other than benign stoicism.  The CIA officialdom are much taken with his brilliantly bad idea (he copied it from Planet of the Apes), and it’s all done fairly well, but I feel manipulated by the plight of the Americans..

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

 

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Rust and Bone

Rust and Bone film posterSynopsis

A film by Jacques Audiard. Matthias Schoenaerts plays Ali, his son Sam played by Armand Verdure.  They go to Antibes to stay with his sister Anne (Corrine Masiero).  Marion Cotillard plays Stephanie who trains whales at a marine show.  The whales crash into the stands and Stephanie loses her legs in the accident.  Stephanie recovers and has a relationship with Ali whom she first met when he was a bouncer at a disco.  Ali aspires to be a boxer and he gets into kick boxer fights and Stephanie deals with his takings.  Ali gets involved in spying on employees which results in Anne’s sacking.  Ali goes north and his son later meets him there…

Criticism

I found this film fairly irritating.  It follows the usual cinematic trajectory in showing disablement: from despair to life-affirming dance routines complete with the usual pop music tracks.  Stephanie gets artificial legs and Ali helps her to accept the situation.  She goes down to the Marine tank and makes the usual cinematic gesture of palming her hand against the glass as an act of acceptance no doubt.  All quite stereotypical in mainstream US films but one does not expect the French to imitate this.  As for losing her legs from an accident with a whale, didn’t this happen to Captain Ahab in Moby Dick?  Aren’t we supposed to appreciate this as symbolic?  Ali helps Stephanie out of her misery and yet he shows little consideration for his sister when he installs the electronic snooper at her work place.  He is obsessed with boxing and is easily provoked to violence.  The film has an erotic feel for vitality so you can almost smell the sweat and feel the shower steam but this vitality can get pretty thuggish.  Ali is another familiar character that Hollywood has foisted on us: ‘The Man With the Son’.  He carts his boy around like a status accessory, presumably to show his humanity.  In film, if you have a son (it’s usually a son) then your sensitivity credentials are established.  Ali is a sentimental brute whose world view is circumscribed by alpha pack confrontations which gave me a headache.  Then we get another predictable scene: the Brueghel like winter landscape where the boy plays on the ice.  You know for sure he is going to fall through the ice and he duly does so.  Rust and Bone to the taste you get when you’ve been punched on the mouth, but for me, well acted though it is, it felt like rust and bone in the head.  Unprepossessing.

 

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Holy Motors

Holy Motors film posterSynopsis

A ‘surreal’ film by Leos Carax about a family man, Denis Lavant, who travels to different appointments in his stretch limo. The appointments start from a cinema full of dead people, then there is an electrified dance cum snake fight, he’s an elderly beggar, a mad tramp abducting a fashion model from a cemetery (Pere Lochaise?), he stabs his double, he shoots a banker, leads an accordion band round a cathedral, he meets Kylie Minogue who sings and wants to do away with herself, he meets a girlfriend in a hotel and comes home to another family at night.  The stretch limo joins others in a garage and they discuss the day’s events…

Criticism

This is similar to Cosmopolis insofar as it involves an unusual journey through the day in a white stretch limo.  It is also a bit similar to Burt Lancaster’s The Swimmer but whereas that film involved a descent from bourgeoise luxury to eccentricity.

Those who can only take their surrealism with the classical Daliesque bent wheel of Hitchcock’s Spellbound will find this film very irritating.  At the most obvious and superficial it could be like a dream though it lacks the claustrophobia you’d expect from that.  Its images are out of their usual context, it’s a magical mystery tour around the sheer oddity of our capriciously designated notions of ‘normal’ reality.  In an age when anything delphic and rebellious has been comodified by the banalities of Hollywood plot and character requirements, it’s refreshing that Carax sticks two fingers up at those expectations.  His characters do the ‘weird’ and unexpected.  For me, the appointments are performance art, a way of bracketing time so that we can explore the effect we have on each other.  Sometimes the dialogue expresses wishful thinking (in the hotel room with his younger girlfriend) and at other times the responsibility inherent in what we say to each other.  Lavant talks about the beauty of the act as if it’s some amoral manifesto for cinema.  That beauty means leaving people to suicide or killing.  Is this really the adoption of personal?   Sometimes it seems more like a fractured self which has no underlying continuity that puts on masks.  The roles do seem to be those of typical outsiders; beggar, madman, murderer, confessional presence, counsellor.  Each appointment seems to have an episodic structure but is really more like different fragments of a broken mirror.

The chauffeur is called Celine.  She could be Lavant’s secretary or mentor, we never know.  Sometimes the camera lingers too long on a scene (Monty Python joked about this in The Meaning of Life when a camera follows Eric Idle as he goes on a long walk) but this is the luxury of not observing the Aristotelian rules of beginning, middle and end of a story, daily life is open ended and has none of the satisfying coherence of a simple story.  When Carax goes home at night it’s not to the art deco house he left in the morning but to a small apartment he shares with a couple of chimps.  This is one of the film’s satirically Bunuel moments.  There are also shots of the film’s origins and it ends with talking motor cars but these cars are more like priests than anything out of Disney.  Great film.

 

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