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Monthly Archives: March 2014

Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyers Club film posterSynopsis

Set in 1985, Ron Woodruff (Mathew McConaughey) is an electrician and rodeo rider who likes sex and drugs.  He learns he has AIDS and has a few weeks to live.  He is furious at contracting a disease he attributes to gay activity.  He battles with official medicine which blocks retroviral drugs.  He gets useful medication illegally after travelling to Mexico.  He helps other sufferers and works with a business partner, the transgender Rayon (Jared Leto).  Woodruff becomes friendly with a doctor (Jennifer Garner).  He proves the medical establishment wrong by a few years…

Review

McConaughey deserved his Oscar for this performance.  In the 1980’s US being gay was pretty dangerous (still can be) among the rednecks and cowboys.  Woodruff shares his former friends’ contempt for them.  He is Marlborough Man, an oilfield electrician who lives in a trailer.  Before his diagnosis he was a rodeo rider on bucking bulls which symbolise the frontier values that he must surrender to the uneasy ambiguities of cosmopolitan identity as represented by gays.  In keeping with the self help ethos of the Capraesque little guy against the big corporations routine, he does his own homework on medication.  As a successful businessman he maintains his links with traditional American values, the enemy is medical bureaucracy, that other punchbag for feisty American individualism.  McConaughey usually plays a tanned sex god, in this he is all weight-loss ravaged, his moustache and cowboy hat making him (ironically) look like one of the pop group Village People.  He is of course ostracised by his former workmates.  His identity crisis seems to be as traumatising as his impending early death. Jared Leto plays the transgender woman’s weary patience well.  She is streetwise and sassy in her drag like any strong heroine in a 70’s road movie.  The friendship between these two and the imminent death make this quite poignant. Woodruff’s relationship with Jennifer Garner is non-sexual of course, there can be no sex except with another sufferer.  Woodruff defends his business partner against the predictable persecutions.

The relationship between Rayon and Woodruff is the riveting centre of this film, like an electrifying performance art that slices through the well worn binaries: freedom and bureaucracy, self help against corporate corruption, feisty didacticism against legal obstruction.  Superb.

 

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August: Osage County

August: Osage CountySynopsis

Violet (Merryl Streep) is a pill addicted career sufferer.  Her husband (Sam Shepard) is an alcoholic poet who kills himself.  Her three daughters are Barbara with husband (Ewan McGregor), Ivy, and Karen (with boyfriend).  They turn up for Shepard’s funeral.  Benedict Cumberbatch misses the funeral but turns up for the wake.  Barbara also brings her teenage daughter.  Mattie Fae (Margot Martindale) is Violet’s sister and she brings her husband.  There are arguments and people go home…

Review

At the centre of this “Who’s Afraid of Meryl Streep” is of course, Meryl Streep who is superbly bitchy to everyone.  Did Sam Shepherd jump into the lake or very sensibly get lost?  It’s Sam Shepherd’s fate to play the ageing Hemingway patriarch of frontier artistic America, even when he’s carrying a gun you expect some philosophy to go with it.  Enduring Violet is above and beyond the call of duty.  Streep is sometimes like Elizabeth Taylor in Who’s Afraid? and sometimes like Vivien Leigh: all amateur psychodrama played by method actor’s school.  You do get weary of her self centred vileness.  The family members stoically have to wait to be patronisingly dismissed for their self absorbed dejection.  Because of her career she wears a black wig but this seems more like a quirkily interesting stage prop.  I kept wondering when she was going to take it off and flog somebody with it.  Violet’s self revelation is all speechy performance rather than something natural.  Scripted by playwright Tracey Letts, we feel like we’ve been dragged on to its stage rather than watching real people hammer out family problems.  Violet mercilessly mocks Benedict Cumberbatch’s character. In this film his fish mouth looks even more lugubrious as he reveals his incestuous attraction for the woman who turns out to be his sister.  Could this film sustain any fascination if it were just about ordinary people venting their tensions around the dinner table?  Of course not, that would be too close to soap opera, things have got to be melodramatic and hokeyly colourful.

The best lines in the film are at the beginning when Julia Roberts and Ewan McGregor talk about the terrifying emptiness of the Oklahoma prairies.  Barbara thinks it would be better if it were returned to native Americans.  This is the same wonder at it we saw in Nebraska and Inside Lewyn Davis.  Naturally, it’s all set on a hot day so the weather can match their passion.  A pretty corny film, though as ever, Meryl Streep acts well.

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Posted by on March 29, 2014 in Film Reviews

 

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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug film posterSynopsis

The second Hobbit movie in which Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and the dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) try to reclaim their Kingdom of Erebor and its gold from Smaug the dragon.  On the way they’re imprisoned by the elves led by Orlando Bloom, and they get to the Kingdom ruled by Stephen Fry.  Smaug is voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch.  Bilbo must face the dragon.

Review

There is no Gollum in this, so we get no eccentricities at a tangent, just different confrontations.  The visual effects are spectacular, especially the forest.  The obvious thing about making a fantasy film is that you make it appear as unworldly as you can, otherwise it is just actors in fancy dress walking through an everyday forest. You can’t do this if your budget is restricted, but if that is the case maybe it’s better not to do it at all.  Peter Jackson of course has a limitless budget.  The elves’ kingdom is spindly and cathedral-cavernous, the only permitted tone is portentous and breathy even if you were to read out a supermarket shopping list.  The elves talk like they’ve undergone brain removal surgery but the visual distractions compensate.  The dwarves escape in barrels rolling down the river then they face the Orcs (who look like rugby players after a white mud bath), but they look scary.  The fishing village is peopled with Volvo types and their cute Harry Potter Britishness, so I was glad to get to Erebor and here the visual spectacle is breathtaking (if a little like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom magnified).  Smaug is somewhat domesticated by familiarity but the scene still holds the attention.  Martin Freeman is good as the ordinary hobbit, who could be punching above his weight if he didn’t have that peskily unsporting gold ring with him.  The dwarves are all militant rectitude, so shop worn since the glowering antics of the downtrodden, squeezed out any wit in Braveheart and it’s ilk.  Their militant hairy rectitude gets a little wearisome.  Gandalf’s talent for avoidable danger leads him into the usual perils that we know he can overcome (this plot device ultimately scuppers Harry Potter).  Good entertainment.

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2014 in Family entertainment, Film Reviews

 

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Only Lovers Left Alive

Only Lovers Left Alive imageSynopsis

Jim Jarmusch’s film about two vampires, Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton).  Adam lives outside Detroit,  Eve outside Tangiers.  Adam gets his blood from a haematologist and Eve from the Elizabethan playwright Kit Marlowe (John Hurt).  They do not bite necks.  Eve goes to Detroit where she and Adam are visited by Ava (Mia Wasikowska ) who gets a boyfriend and vampirizes him.  They kick her out.  They need fresh uncontaminated blood and go to Tangiers to get it.  Denied a pure supply they must resort to getting blood by other means……

Review

Adam and Eve are hilarious and languid, as you’d expect.  This for me is the best vampire movie since Nosferatu and Salem’s Lot, and it’s funnier than those pathetically laboured so called spoof vampire movies.  As for Buffy,Twilight, and recent Swedish movies, forget it!  I despise this fad for vampires and zombies (in this movie “zombie” is the name for humans).  Swinton and Hiddleston are superb.  Hiddleston looks like Byron (whom he disparages) as a rock star, and the music’s great.  Swinton and Hiddleston are cool, the sort of charismatic sophisticates we all want to get on with.  They earn their cynical, world-weary put downs since they’ve lived over the centuries and remain gloomily unimpressed by humans.  At one stage they wonder where Eve’s sister is,”probably lying around in some fucking coffin” is Adam’s laconic answer.  Adam’s mansion looks like a gothic hipster drug den, complete with rock music sound equipment, some thing that Roger Corman might have aspired to.  Vampirism as addiction has obvious metophorical links with drug taking, sex, and rock and roll.  There are some good lyrical moments, like when Eve talks about a star many light years away and it’s a huge diamond that sounds like a gong.  Ava (Mia Wasikowska) is the spoilt teenage brat who disturbs Adam’s jealously guarded artistic menage.  She flounces in with her middle class brattishness, turning his mansion into an Adam’s Family comedy.  She breaks the rules by feasting on a zombie and she is kicked out.  In Tangiers, Adam and Eve are running out of potable blood (they usually drink it like cocktails), they are desperate.  Chris Marlowe (John Hurt) can’t get them any decent blood.  There’s a picture of Shakespeare and sure enough Marlowe calls him a zombie philistine.  There are other famous pin-ups who can claim vampire status, e.g. Buster Keaton and Franz Kafka.  The one jarring note comes at the end when Adam and Eve mention particle attraction at the end of the universe, quoting Einstein.  This is not cool, I think you only mention Einstein if you can do super duper maths.  Anyway, brilliantly funny.

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2014 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn Davis film posterSynopsis

Starring Oscar Isaac as Llewyn Davis, a ‘folk singer’ who has a stack of unsold albums, and will not surrender his integrity to go commercial, but then he sings an absurd pop song for money.  His girlfriend is played by Carey Mulligan, she may or may not be pregnant by him, can he afford the abortion?  Davis plays in coffee bars in Greenwich and goes off to Chicago to further his artistic ambitions, travelling there with John Goodman.  He auditions for Murray Abrahams who rejects him.  Davis meets his father and thinks of joining the merchant navy.  He returns to New York and tries to make it again as he insults other acts and gets beaten up for it.

Review

This is set in 1961 Greenwich Village when ‘folk music’ became a middle class fad for ernest young Americans and Brits.  Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger inspired the young to political protest (this film was released shortly after Seeger’s death).  The young Bob Dylan appears at the end of the film.  I remember the fuss about Dylan’s supposed betrayal of folk ideals when that culture was full of people trying to make money and achieve stardom.  Dylan tried that phase and then went electric, writing songs that were hilarious pranks played on gullible would be intellectuals, he betrayed nothing.  His crime was to be more successful than the rest.  Llewyn Davis talks about integrity, but the folk scene for him is merely a self inflicted religion of the nobility of failure and poverty.  He poses like a self pitying martyr through a New York lovingly created to remind us of the cover of Dylan’s Free Wheelin album.

The colours are quite muted as in other Coen films and there is the vastness of the American landscape.  This film shares with Nebraska and Orange County an acknowledgement of the great emptiness of the mid west and its effect on the mind.  On the journey from New York to Chicago the landscape is so bleak it’s like the barest sketch for an Edward Hopper painting.  John Goodman plays the Albert Grossman character who is contemptuously cynical of Davis’ artistic aspirations.  He passes out in the car and Llewyn leaves him there, his beatnik driver is picked up by the police.  This is the reality of the Kerouac scene, the soul destroying drabness of a wasted industrial landscape.

Davis himself is a prick, he self loathingly staggers around thinking that his brutal frankness is a fearless integrity stripping away illusion, rather than a licence to inflict needless self regarding cruelty.  Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan play a couple, their folksy wholesomeness contrasting with Davis’ cynical arrogance.  Davis’ own songs are not all that wonderful, Murray Abrahams doesn’t think of him as a commercial prospect, so it makes Dylan’s own success from such an unpromising environment all the more surprising.

 
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Posted by on March 6, 2014 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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The Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street film posterSynopsis

This is the story of Jordan Belfort in the 1980s and 90s who gulled people with his inflated stocks.  He is instructed in this by Matthew McConaughey.  Belfort recruits a lot of apparent no-hopers and sets them on a career path of fraud, drugs, prostitution, and manic greed.  Belfort’s marriage is rocky and he is eventually imprisoned by the  FBI whose agents he’s tried to bribe.

Review

This is an often hilarious stand up comedy where Gordon Gekko is the comedian.  We’re supposed to think this film is detached irony but it seems to be laughing with, rather than at, the food chain ‘Big I ams’ masquerading as human beings.  They defrauded a lot of poor people and gloried in it, telling us that ‘greed is good’ in five hundred uses of the “f” word.  The drug scenes are part menace and part hilarity.  When they’re on quaaludes we’re back in those 60s films that also seemed to find drug-addled behaviour really funny. On quaaludes they’re staggering, then crawling along in a sort of slow motion parody of their hyped up equally mindless selves.  In one scene Belfort thinks he’s driving back to his mansion in a state of superb self control and then we see the scene as it really is in which he crashes into everything and crawls like the slug that he is.  This is like the world he wrecks, there’s the grandiose self-perception and the tawdry reality.

The film starts out in voice-over which is supposed to give it some distance from chaos, the matter of fact tone of the voice-over exacerbating the outrage of whatever he’s narrating.  His stand up comedy energy is like the comedian who shouts in order to prevent being heckled.  Belfort is a benzedrine viper and at the end he merely squirms rather than show repentance.  The long crash of his career is like that of Al Pacino in Scarface. The business arguments lack the fire of those salesmen in Glengarry Glenross.  Belfort is a cheap cult leader, too shallow to feel self hatred.  When he fails to bribe the FBI agent he becomes petulant and later self pitying.  At the end of the film we see the uncorrupted FBI agent on the metro, looking at the sort of victims that Belfort probably fleeced.  Scorsese fails to put this creep in his place and that’s a shame.

 
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Posted by on March 3, 2014 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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