Monthly Archives: July 2013

The Purge

The Purge film posterSynopsis

It’s the USA in 2022, on one night in the year when “Citizens” can murder or steal from anyone and any other crime is permissible.   Such licensed criminality is supposed to iron out criminal impulses from all other days in the year.  Ethan Hawke has an affluent home which is protected against attack but they let in a black man who is escaping from his persecutors among whom are the very neighbours who previously acted in a neighbourly fashion.  Hawke’s daughter has a boyfriend who has already tried to shoot Hawke and now the persecutors are trying to get in to the house…


The idea of one night of licensed crime is a good one with satirical potential.  For me the satire is on the determination that denies free will when behaviour is judged, neither good nor bad, but on its social usefulness.  If the rich can defend themselves against human depredation then the victims will mostly be the poor such as the black man on the run from racist whites, the black actor here has been given the thankless role of being the dignified good guy.   Ironically, on a night when the middle classes are supposed to free the apeman caged in their codes of domestic affluence which sanctions moral hypocrisy, their conscious and moral sense are challenged by this desperate outsider..  He is the Bunuel interloper who can upset Hawke’s smug life.  However, the film squanders the potential for moral debate and parable portentousness by resorting to the gunfight and bloody violence which comes out of nowhere.  The criminality is supposed to be all the more shocking because of the Stepford affluence that the main characters live in, but of course this simply masks racism, xenophobia, and greed. The neighbours who offer Hawke’s family a pie, turns out to be one of the most violent of the licensed criminals reminding us of the saying “Violence is as American as apple pie”.  This is of course a well worn theme, the brutality that protects wealth and privilege.  The film could be more effective if it were shorter.  The story avoids any realistic plausibilities: surely this unleashing of crime could not be so easily contained, and what about the consequent prevalence of justifiable vengeance?  These ideas could merit a sequel (but not in this film).  We are given a nasty cop out.

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Posted by on July 31, 2013 in At the cinema, Film Reviews


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A Field in England

A Field in England film posterSynopsis

By Kill List Bill Wheatley and written by Amy Jump, set in 17th century civil war England in a field near a battle.  A group of deserters end up looking for treasure at the instigation of O’Neil (Michael Smiley).  The scholar Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith) is supposed to arrest O’Neil but becomes his slave.  There are other accomplices, Cutter (Ryan Pope), Jacob (Richard Fernando)  and Friend (Richard Glover).  They eat mushrooms and have psychedelic visions.  They turn on each other, are there any survivors…?


This has been released in cinema, on DVD, video on demand, and on fee TV.  I can remember black and white films in the 60s and 70s about such subjects as the Battle of Culloden and civil war conflicts.  These were given a documentary, earthy style and there is something of this in the black and white A Field in England.  It’s a bit like an old agit prop production which nevertheless doesn’t really get political, there don’t appear to be any Levellers, Diggers or Ranters in this.  As if to take their cue from Thomas Hobbs “life is nasty, brutish and short” and from Roundhead and Cavalier conflict in the civil war.  Films set in the 17th century are usually populated by effete dandies (Cavaliers) or very rough peasants (Roundheads). Here we only get rough peasants.  The one character approximating to be a ‘gentleman’ is the very nasty O’Neil, he is like some fanatic out of Miller’s The Crucible.  There are no witches in this, but the characters do like magic mushrooms and we get hallucinatory images in black and white (which is more effective than colour would be).  There is an expanding black sun, the characters strike weirdly expressionist poses in tableaux, and there is stop and start camera work.  It’s all rather experimental, often to the point of being wilfully obscure.  The characters say elliptical things to each other.  In a mercifully straight forward moment, one character speaks of the earth being turned upside down, this is a reference to a Christopher Hill book on the civil war.  Wheatley’s intention is to emphasize showing rather than exposition, too many historical dramas tame the strangeness of the past by explaining it whereas if we were really dropped into a 17th century field we would probably be baffled by what’s going on.  There is a good point to this but it can look like as excuse for rambling incoherence in place of any narrative push.  At one stage Whitehead is inside a tent where O’Neil is doing something unspeakable to him as we hear Whitehead’s screams.  Then Whitehead staggers out of the tent and has a leash round his neck.  The other men start digging a hole for O’Neil as if to look for treasure, his hold over these men is like that of Musa (the devil) in Jim Crace’s Quarantine.  Occasionally it almost tips into self parody, like a Monty Python history sketch or a 1970s TV commercial for cider.  It’s like watching the Sealed Knot (which involves English guys dressing up in civil war costumes to re-enact battles) acting bits of Equus or Wickerman.  It also looks like those awful TV ghost stories from the 70s.  For all these caveats it’s certainly an original and energetic film.


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Before Midnight

Before Midnight film posterSynopsis

Ethan Hawke (Jesse) says goodbye to his son (Seamus Davey- Fitzpatrick) who is returning to the States from Athens airport.  He wants more contact with his son.  He has two daughers with Celine (Julie Delpy).  For the rest of the film Jesse and Celine talk to each other in the car, in the kitchen, and the hotel room.  They talk at the dining table of Patrick who is an elderly writer and patriarch of the Greek hideaway.  The guests discuss their life experiences and ambitions.  Will Jesse and Celine be reunited after their hotel room argument?


I watched Before Sunrise (1995) just before this film, in the Vienna train Jesse and Celine meet each other as they avoid a married couple arguing.  At the end of Before Midnight they become that married couple arguing.  In the previous films they seem to make a big deal out of what the rest of us can take in our stride.  I’ll concede that the argument in the hotel room where they reveal resentments and disappointments is often quite funny.  Celine tells Jesse the writer (who uses her as his muse) that he’s no Henry Miller.  She tells him he is a Socratic poseur wafting under the olive trees.  Their sex seems to have become predictable.  This final row reveals Jesse as a self-serving rather vain middle class US academic.  He has all the right psychobabble cliches and though he’s pretty quick on the riposte, one feels he’s out of his depth with the more complicated Celine.  In Before Sunrise (set in Paris) the pair struck me as reliably plodding, full of middle brow received wisdoms.  They speak as if to reflect the aspirations of what they imagine their cinema audience to be.  They sound like they’ve read from a Woody Allen script and I detested Woody Allen’s pseudo intellectual name dropping.  Admittedly their loquacious energy can be quite impressive as they guilt trip each other.  With their too easily assumed martyrdoms which are must-have accessories for us all.  Celine thinks Jesse uses Hank to manoeuvre her into a move to the US. At times it was like being in a theatre workshop on how to improvise a marital breakdown.  They were playing to an unseen presence in the hotel room: the embarrassed observer dragged through his/her old marital routines.

The scene at the Greek hideaway is the standard stereotype of the authority figure (like Robert Graves in Spain), holding court over a table with posh Greek food and compliant guests self consciously going through the motion of being literary and cutesy wise.  Their conversation comes out of a would-be thinking person’s airport novel.  Celine later confesses she didn’t like her Greek holiday (no mention of that country’s current terrible problems).  Celine is environmentally engaged whereas Jesse wants to write a novel about how brain disorders effect behaviour.  Science fiction as escapism from the consequences of a relationship perhaps?  I hope we’ve seen the last of these self absorbed irritating people.


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Man of Steel

Man of Steel film posterSynopsis

Zack Snyder’s origin myth of Superman.  Krypton (Superman’s home planet) is engaged in a war to the death where General Zod (Michael Shannon) fights Superman’s dad (Russell Crowe).  He sends his son (Henry Cavill) to Earth from the doomed Krypton.  Superman becomes Clark Kent and is brought up on a farm by Kevin Costner and Diane Lane.  He meets up with Lois Lane (Amy Adams).  Zod battles with Superman for the Earth and guess who wins.


This film is ludicrously po-faced, pompous, silly nonsense.  Why are we expected to take this comic book hero so seriously?  I wouldn’t mind if it were just knockabout fun but it looks like it’s a reboot of modern myths featuring a man in blue tights and red underpants for heaven’s sake!  It deals with Superman’s origins in such dense (though visually impressive) detail,  I think it’s trying to out do Star Wars in gravitas and narrative reach.  Russell Crowe looks like he’s straining on the toilet whilst coping with bad tooth ache.  We get the same weary disclaimers of superpower skills:  the reluctant hero as sensitive liberal suffering from familial crises of identity, all straight out of our therapy culture’s beloved catalogue of predictable vulnerabilities.  There’s the Spiderman fake philosophy of using power responsibly.  Henry Cavill does look like our idea of Superman, which means that he needs no more acting talent than a corpse.  Christopher Reeve at least had the decency to act woodenly, I don’t think Cavill can even come up with that.  Costner adds stolid decency to American mid western myths and “America’s place in the world”.  Superman’s loyalties are under question, like a Guantanamo prisoner he must demonstrate he’s worthy of the U.S. military’s trust, he must demonstrate his right to be free.  It seems being brought up on a Kansas farm is no longer enough to make you a signed-up American.  I’ve never been a fan of these heroes of the comics but surely Superman should start from small deeds and build up to the big world–saving stuff.  In this film he has already saved our planet from Zod and his gang, where can he go from here?  Watching these C.G.I. scenes make me feel like I’ve been strapped to a shaking bed while someone is banging my head with an iron bat.  Please don’t bother with a sequel.

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


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