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Monthly Archives: March 2013

Stoker

Stoker film posterSynopsis

Starring Nicole Kidman as Mrs Stoker whose husband Richard has just died (played by Dermot Mulroney).  Her daughter is India (Mia Wasikowska).  Charlie (Matthew Goode) turns up.  He has sexual designs on the Stoker mother and daughter.  India flirts and Charlie teaches her to kill.  Charlie has a psychiatric history.  He kills his brother Richard.  Who else will he kill?

Review

Made by Park Chan Wook (who made Oldboy in 2003).  This is such a sensually loaded film it makes you feel you’re being stroked.  The images are lush in a sort of Elvira Madigan trance of an idyllic summer.  One scene goes from the combing of hair to wheat waving in the wind.  Blood sprays white flowers.  It’s like Terence Mallick’s visual style mixed with a Hitchcock plot (indeed it derives from Shadow of a Doubt).  Nicole Kidman looks poised to aim neurosis or worse at whoever is in her sights  Sexual jealousy from mother to daughter is highly charged.  Emotions swarm beneath chilly elegance and it later electrifies the atmosphere.  Charlie. is a smirking con man, we know he is dangerous but we’ve seen more convincing specimens of his type: like Laurence Olivier in Rebecca, Humphrey Bogart and Claude Rains.  Charlie is not given any memorable lines but he is a suave killer.  This film lacks any originality of plot so it compensates by its density of image.  India says arty things about the photographs catching us out in unusual angles.  She is not exactly a killer in the style of Hitchcock’s Rope, more a lethal primitive pretending to sophistication.  Her voice-over reminds us of the amoral naivety of Sissy Spacek in Badlands.  It does not have the mesmeric music of that film although Summer Wine is a pleasant record sound track.  She sleeps on a bed with several pairs of identical shoes in a circle round her.  She may be rich and beautiful but she is ultimately a mundane assassin.  This is the Southern US and of course stereotypically it has to be loaded with a potential for evil, so it wouldn’t work if it were set in Akron Ohio would it?

Nicole Kidman is left with little to do in this film.  We are left to wonder if she is entirely guiltless of her husband’s death, and who is in more danger from Charlie, daughter or mother, and since they’re both unlikeable from the start we wouldn’t mind seeing their comeuppence.  Like a snooze in a wheat field.

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2013 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty film posterSynopsis

About the search for and killing of Osama bin Laden.  Jessica Chastain plays Maya who leads the hunt  for him.  An al-Qaeda suspect is tortured.  We follow Chastain in her hunt and she has to convince her bosses to act.  Her colleagues die in attacks.  The team goes into north Pakistan (Abbatabad) and they kill bin Laden and allies.

Review

This film is bound to arouse much controversy because of the debate about the use of torture in combating terrorism.  For those against torture it might look an apology for it, and for those in favour it might appear to reinforce their beliefs.  The film does have that same self congratulatory feel to it that was prevalent in Argo.  Just as Argo uses the ‘dramatic license’ excuse to lie about the role of the British Embassy in Tehran so the small detail about bin Laden’s hunter being a man and not Jessica Chastain’s character is cheerfully discarded.  I suspect so are other historical details.  There are, after all, people who doubt bin Laden was killed.  The film does not flinch at showing the shocking details of what is done to suspects in the name of the war against terror (how do you make war against an abstraction?) .  The film avoids complicated ethical questions and is more concerned with torture’s war-legitimised efficacy.  It’s depiction of security service violence arguably constitutes a gratuitous wallowing in it, after it’s long been easy for mainstream cinema to show vaudevillian levels of brutality.  The CIA characters in this film, unlike in Argo, are given no humorous and heroic way out for their actions, they are career hunters after terrorists whom we are repeatedly reminded are a threat to our democratic values, but then the terrible irony of becoming infected with the enemy’s contempt for human rights is never addressed.  This film adapts the rather hectic pseudo documentary pace of constant switching of place and time like a real life Bourne.  Self justification is reserved for technical details, the default position on arguments is for personality differences, so the bigger justification for “war on terror” is evaded.  References to terror outrages are plot propulsion and rationale for the American agent’s often unsavoury actions.  The torture scenes veer between the overriding need to extract information and a rueful recognition of the psycho-sexual aspects of such sessions.

The final tracking down and killing of Osama bin Laden gets perilously close to the A team or Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds puppets  (hilarious in Team America).  I half expected Sylvester Stallone and Chuck Norris to turn up waving machine pistols around, and I had to remind myself that this was a real life mission to take out the big bogeyman.  Again like Argo there is a smug tone to the final scenes.  Meanwhile Obama is busy killing people with his drones.

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2013 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas film posterSynopsis

Based on the novel by David Mitchell (not considered filmable).  There are several stories: the redemption of a 19th century slaver, 1930s Ben Whishaw in an artistic relationship with composer Jim Broadbent, Halle Berry taking on power companies in 1973, an Irish hack writer going after publisher Jim Broadbent who hides in a nursing home and rebels against it, a race of cyber slaves in 22nd century Korea.  Tom Hanks playing Zachry speaking pidgin English and fighting prehistoric tribesmen as he tries to discover human destiny on a mountain…

Review

There are leaps from era to era where we also get the leading actors playing different roles.  This can be pretty distracting, so you spend a lot of time wondering who is behind the prosthetic gimmickry.  Hugh Grant as a Korean?  Tom Hanks as a thuggish Irish pulp writer?  Ben Wishaw as a 1973 record seller?  Hugo Weaving as a scary nurse Ratchet?  It’s all a bit of a lark so it undermines the film’s already pretentious message about the triumph of the human spirit against the control of would be totalitarians (as in Pullman’s Golden Compass).  I haven’t yet read the book, no doubt it’s better than this Twilight Zone romp which though good to look at, is no sci-fi classic.  The Wachowskis have made this film, they were responsible for The Matrix and it shows.  This film is littered with cod philosophy, the beer mat Buddhist nostrums beloved of middle brow coffee table sci-fi.  It toys with cosmic themes like other films but usually does this in a clunking Dr Who manner.  For me, the only really good episode is Jim Broadbent as the book publisher escaping Tom Hanks’ vengeful Irish hack.  Broadbent takes refuge in a nursing home and rebels against it, a sort of geriatric One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest set in Scotland.  It’s pure slapstick, Carry on Broadbent.  The 1930s composer sequence is like a kitsch take on the relationship between the composer Delius and his amanuensis Eric Ferby.  Halle Berry tries to do a Jane Fonda in The China Syndrome but the story looks increasingly like a discarded Starsky and Hutch episode with a nod to Day of the Condor.  The Korean sequence is more like a Blade Runner set in a Bond stunt as it avoids the complicated problems associated with artificial intelligence that Isaac Asimov deals with  The far future episode looks like Zardoz as done by Danny Boyle.  Hanks is stalked by a green bogeyman who is more vaudeville than sinister.

 
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Posted by on March 9, 2013 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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Hitchcock

Hitchcock film posterSynopsis

About the making of Hitchcock’s Psycho, Anthony Hopkins plays Hitchcock getting through the Eisenhower era obstacles of censorious prudery, timidity, shame and conservatism.  Helen Mirren plays his wife Alma Reville and it concerns her input into his directorial art when she fell out with the scriptwriter.  It shows us the original 1940’s case on which Psycho was based.  Scarlett Johansson plays Janet Leigh and James D’Arcy plays Anthony Perkins.  Hitchcock must fund the film himself and Paramount will distribute it.

Review

This has been attacked for being inaccurate about Hitchcock but I wonder if this matters.  Hitchcock would surely have appreciated a film as a work of art about his film making.  Hollywood does love to reference itself endlessly.  Anthony Hopkins may not much look like Hitchcock but he sounds and acts like him.  We are now used to muck-raking about this director, about his sexual predatoriness towards his blonde stars.  The film The Girl is based on Tippi Hedren and the making of The Birds, she has accused Hitchcock of making sexual advances to her and The Girl shows how this weaves into the making of that film.  In The Girl Hitchcock is played by Toby Jones as a sad stalker.  Hitchcock passes over these accusations and so resists hindsight meretriciousness (this is before The Birds) so he gets the benefit of the doubt as an impressively artistic monster rather than a sadly sexual one.

Psycho has set the template for schlok horror for the past 50 years, of course in 1960 it was schockingly new: a bathroom knife attack, cross dressing, and the attention to psychotic detail.  Up to 1960 the American home was advertized as a sanctum of moral rectitude but in Psycho there is a stuffed corpse and (gasp) a toilet!  This gives the film a greater cultural significance than its intrinsic merits warrant.

Helen Mirren gives a strong performance as Mrs Hitchcock.  It’s hard to believe she was overshadowed by her husband.  She is an amazing mixture of technical expertise and saintly self effacement.  She is terse and laconic about the prima donna antics of the film business, it’s no surprise she suggests killing off Janet Leigh early in the movie.  She herself has a brief affair with a hack writer Whitfield Cook played by Danny Huston and this is in itself like a Hitchcock story.  In films Hitchcock emphasized the gaze of the camera, and of people on each other, so it’s rather apt that the cold eye of the camera swivels about in Hitchcock’s house which seems bereft of sex in its hilariously sanitized Doris Day bedroom.  The interiors are as formal and chilling as those we see in Hitchcock’s 50s films.  These affluent acres of film land are a perfect background for some Daphne du Maurier or Patricia Highsmith character sinisterly swanning around.  I’m reminded of those eery sets for Kim Novak in Vertigo.  Scarlett Johansson is only required to impersonate Janet Leigh and James D’Arcy plays Anthony Perkins offering hints of being gay.  Neither reverential nor scabrous, Hitchcock offers a perceptive view of the launching of pulp horror.  Interestingly, neither The Girl nor Hitchcock gives us any insight into Hitchcock’s penchant for cod psychology.

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2013 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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Flight

Flight

Synopsis

Stars Denzel Washington as Whip Whittaker, an airline pilot who is a druggie and a drunkard.  He drinks on his plane which will crash due to mechanical failure.  He flips the plane over and lands it with only six fatalities out of one hundred and two on board.  He recuperates in hospital and meets Kelly Reilly a drug user.  Don Cheadle plays the lawyer who deals with the potentially damaging toxicology finding. The drug taker is now his girlfriend and he has a stormy relationship with his ex-wife and kid.  He is up before a hearing.  Will he speak the truth about his alcoholism thus saving the reputation of an alcoholic (deceased colleague)?  Will he be prosecuted?

Review

The Leslie Nielsen Airplane comedy films were hilarious and when Whittaker turns the plane upside down I couldn’t help laughing.  I’m not sure if this manoeuvre can be done, but when the pilot is Denzel Washington then anything is possible.  The air crash starts at the beginning of the film so Whittaker has to prepare for the hearing and it’s here that eventually he has to achieve some sort of redemption.  I think the film is about loss of control: Whittaker’s self justification runs away from his conscience as he tries to solicit the good opinions of his colleagues, Whittaker’s inebriation spins out of control like the engine failure that caused the crash.  John Goodman plays his drug guru who uses cocaine to cure Whittaker of a hangover (to the music of Sympathy for the Devil) so out of control drug taking overtakes alcohol.  Whittaker meets Kelly Reilly in hospital, a drug user who herself is on a crazy spiral of addiction.  Don Cheadle plays his lawyer who is prepared to lie and cheat to clear Whittaker of responsibility on manslaughter charges, so lawyerish shysterism spins out of control from the need to speak the truth.  Whittaker’s union rep wants to maintain good relations with the airline company so he’s got no integrity based control.  The company boss is unaccountable.  Ironically, the one person who is most in control is a cancer patient whom Whittaker meets at the hospital.  This guy uses dark humour to reconcile himself to his impending death.  There is no one to blame and it’s accepted as an act of God.   Whittaker himself is not directly to blame for the crash and everyone passes the buck.  In this respect the out of control plane is a fitting metaphor for the main characters.  Once in prison, Whittaker says he is free since he accepts his responsibility and in good psychobabble style he achieves a sort of closure (if not forgiveness) from colleagues and passengers  His co-pilot absolves him and accepts the accident as an act of God.  The film deals with these issues in a lively style and Washington is good as the sot who confuses being forgiven with self redemption.  Naturally, he’s a failed father who achieves some sort of reconciliation with his son.  Cheadle is good as the oleaginous lawyer who wouldn’t be out of place at the foul end of an argument in a John Grisham courtroom drama.  The title is pleasingly ambiguous, is it the flight of a plane or the flight from self?  Watchable, even though it’s a confessional heading into a brick wall  .

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2013 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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