Tag Archives: 2014

Force Majeure

Force Maeure film posterSynopsis

Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke ) is on a skiing holiday with his wife Ebba and the two kids.  Avalanches are controlled through detonation and one seems to be heading towards them.  Tomas grabs his Iphone and runs away leaving Ebba to look after the kids.  The avalanche leaves only a harmless mist of snow which does not reach them.  He returns to his family.  He must deal with his cowardice.


This film is an unrelenting gaze at our failure to live up to the painfully flattering image we like to make of ourselves.  This is an affluent middle class family, the couple are good looking and enjoy all the status advantages, but this is undone in a moment of cowardice.  The middle class family starts to fall apart.  Ebba and the kids reproach Tomas who initially can’t be honest about running away.  He justifies himself by arguing that actions can be interpreted in different ways.  The evidence of the Iphone is irrefutable and his loss of face before his wife and friends is sadistically drawn out.  His friend Mats makes excuses for him “You were safe so you could dig them out?”.  The more he tries to excuse Tomas, the more embarrassing it becomes because all this painful justification convinces no-one.  Tomos then turns the event into a sort of family therapy session, absurdly claiming victimhood in order to win his wife’s sympathy.  He wants absolution and bizarrely seems to arrange a skiing accident which will flatter his male ego.  The desolation of the snowy landscape is good background for stripped down emotions, accentuating the transience of the affluent smugness that intrudes on it.  The wheezing machinery in the snow looks like a spidery cage opening on freezing death.  Grim.



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Wild Tales

Wild Tales film posterSynopsis

A collection of stories – Pasternak, Rats, Road to Hell, Dynamite, The Bill, Till Death Do Us Part – about revenge.  Set in Argentina.


These stories are like a mixture of The Twilight Zone, and Bunuel with The Three Stooges.  The first story is appallingly topical after the Alpine plane crash, so its release is unfortunate.  Another story concerns the casual murder of a loathsome man.  Another is like Spielberg’s Duel, only this time the protagonists are snarling face to face.  The next starts with the buying of a birthday cake and ends up as a black comedy aimed at obstructive bureaucracy working a scam.  Then there is a story about a road death and how the rich and powerful can avoid the consequences of their misdeeds.  Another is about hilarious grounds for divorce, even before the couple dishes out the wedding cake.  There is a very jaded look at contemporary Argentina when corruption and violence are fixtures in the lives of the rich and powerful.  The stories cleverly dangle the plot twist which never really comes.  Each tale simply ends in cold vengeance, sometimes just malicious and sometimes just nobody is likeable, everyone has good reasons for bad behaviour.  The opening pictures of the film show animals and what we get is a menagerie of injured vanity, cowardice, greed, self loathing, jealousy, class hatred, and shame. The bars of the cage don’t so much rattle as clang from indignation at the sorry state of failed humanity.  It’s like torture porn scripted by Shakespeare of Titus Andronicus with a lot of Jacobean darkness.


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While We’re Young

While We're Young film posterSynopsis

Noah Baumbach’s comedy about Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) in their 40s trying to relive their younger years. They are befriended by Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried).  Cornelia gets into hip hop and Josh collaborates with Jamie in a documentary. Cornelia is childless but wants a child.  Josh and Jamie discuss the nature of film.  The two couples want rejuvenation through peyote-induced therapy techniques.  There is confrontation between James and Josh at the end.


This is very Woody Allen (yuk).  Middle aged and middle class averagely insane narcissists worried about the direction of their lives.  I certainly didn’t sympathize with their plight, I just wish they’d grow up less embarrassingly.   It’s like all those productions in which the younger people are often more mature than the silly middle aged.  Cornelia gets involved with Mum-set types and wants a child (this is the usual Hollywood lecture, that having kids is the ultimate in life).  Josh and Cornelia want to get back to their lives before they used Google and Twitter.  They want to revive the romanticism of their first meeting.  Josh tells Cornelia it’s idiotic to text or phone each other first date wise when they’re (erm) living in the same room.  It’s Bob Ted Carol and Alice in reverse, not married couples experimenting with sexual drugs but getting back to basics.  Naturally Jamie and Darby listen to vinyl records, and to tapes, and use typewriters, and these are the things that Josh and Cornelia discarded.  Darby makes ice cream, how quirkily hip my dear!  Josh and Jamie agonise about documentary film and the nature of truth, which of course reflects the endless search for authenticity in their personal lives.  Jamie is not the seeker of truth he seems to be but can be coldly manipulative and career orientated, more than his idealistic pose would have Josh believe.  Josh has a problem with this but shouldn’t he look deeper into his art? There is guilt ridden theorising about it. The ayahuesca sessions are reminiscent of those obligatory visits to such places as the Esden Centre that middle aged hippies used to visit.  Irritating!!!!

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Posted by on May 26, 2015 in At the cinema, Film Reviews


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It Follows

It Follows film posterSynopsis

The curse of being followed by demons is sexually transmitted.  After having sex with her boyfriend Hugh (Jake Weary) who is followed by demons, Joy (Maike Monroe) is in turn pursued.  She can only pass it on by having sex and she does.  This has tragic consequences, the demons brutally attack their victims.  If the latest carrier dies then the curse returns to the previous carrier.


This comes across as a parable about sex, death, and moral consequences as if written by Jose Saramago.  There is no soft blue light at night time but there are other regular features of horror films: teens engaged in one- upmanship, the lonely nerd who tries to impress the girl, the curiously absent or useless parents, high school confrontations.  This has been touted as different from the pack of horror films but it’s a familiar mixture of horror films we know well.  It’s like Nightmare on Elm Street and any number of zombie and vampire movies.  Originality is stretched thinly around the bare framework of the story, all Kafka on amphetamines.  The demons are slow walking oddities and this makes them scarier, they are ill dressed but implacable in their pursuit of victims.  The sheer ineluctability of the chase is the hobgoblin here, you don’t wake up from the nightmare.  There is a confrontation with Joy’s demon in the swimming pool, the violence becomes desperate in the urge to make the unseen seen.  It Follows is like a throwback to David Lynch’s view of the sinister threat lurking under the Stepford anality of prissy surburbia.  There is a sinister focus on natural scenes that might suddenly erupt in a threat, feeding teen paranoia.  It shows a love of retro that does not refer to a specific era: there are corded telephones, awful black and white sci-fi on TV, a picture palace cinema.  It Follows moves in the right direction towards better horror, but there is still a long walk ahead.

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Posted by on March 30, 2015 in At the cinema, Film Reviews


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Birdman film posterSynopsis

Director Iñárritu‘s film starring Michael Keaton (Riggan Thomson) as an actor who was once a star in a ’90s Birdman franchise.  Now he’s on Broadway acting Raymomd Carver’s What we Talk about when we Talk about Love with Edward Norton as Mike Shiner.  It’s about the frantic egotism of putting on this play.  Emma Stone is his ex-druggie daughter.  The hallucinatory appearance of Birdman speaks terse truths to Riggan.  He walks through Broadway in his underpants inadvertently starting a new kind of realistic theatre.  He has Birdman visions.


The camera follows Riggan around, so you feel as if you’ve asked to take part in the hectically claustrophobic self absorption of the characters.  The similarity of Birdman to Keaton’s own Birdman is of course entirely intentional.  The seeming real time ducking and weaving of the camera parodies the hand held breathlessness pioneered by the Blair Witch Project, but here it gets us into dark places as Riggan learns some hard truths about himself both as a neglectful and selfish parent of Sam and as an actor from the aptly named Shiner.  Edward Norton’s Shiner is a perfect mickey take of all those tediously obvious method actors that we first saw playing themselves in beatnik sets in the ’50s, the Lee Strasberg school of actorly self consciousness.  The rapid fire incestuous in-jokes about actors recall the similar smug self regard in Betty Davis All about Eve.  In Birdman the actors are expected to be predatory, vain, arrogant, and abrasive and they don’t disappoint.  In Birdman it’s often difficult to draw the line between parody of theatrical vanity and the transparent celebration of that very vanity.   Keaton’s facial gurning draws on his recent performance in Other Guys, like electrified facetiousness.  Are we supposed to congratulate Keaton on his candid self exposure, or his acting at being self revealing?  For all the actors the film looks like an exercise in self therapy helped by energetic jazz music that gives the whole film an unrehearsed feel.  The camera is as energetic and confrontational as the dialogue, as it expressionistically pans over the theatre, streets, and roof tops. Is being punch drunk from the camera and dialogue the same as any exhausting insight into one’s self or others?  What ever the answer might be, it’s occasionally fun.

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Posted by on February 20, 2015 in At the cinema, Film Reviews


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The Theory of Everything

The Theory of Everything film posterSynopsis

About the cosmologist Stephen Hawking and his early life in Cambridge, and his marriage to Jane Wilde played by Felicity Jones.  He is struck down by motor-neurone disease and how the marriage copes with that.  Jane develops a friendship with a choirmaster and there is eventual separation in the Hawking marriage.  Hawking becomes world famous.


The movie starts out as another stab of the mid 20th century heritage industry courtesy of the Cambridge middle classes: chaps in tweed suits, debutantes and fusty Victorian attitudes all round.  It shows the Britain of Harold McMillan which is a fashionable film obsession these days.  Hawking is the very bright guy who meets arts student Jane, then he in inflicted with motor-neurone disease.  I’m sure the reality of their suffering is worse than what we see in the film.  Eddie Redmayne’s acting makes for uncomfortable watching and I’m not wholly convinced of the case for it to be acted, no matter how good.  The focus of the film does shift towards Jane, who is all self-sacrificing stoicism.  She is patronizingly told that she must be lucky to have him, she must have wondered what kind of luck it is that involves the surrender of her own personality and career.  She forlornly sits in the kitchen trying to write on Spanish poetry when she gets the time.  The domestic tensions are well handled and discreetly British.  Hawking seems at times oblivious of the severity of the demands made on her, so we’re invited to step through a film in which what’s left unsaid tiptoes round his dreadful condition.  The big problem with this movie is the same as that with Beautiful Mind, Imitation Game etc.  Accept the premise that reverence is sanctified envy, then the public’s worship of the elite maths that we can’t understand looks fairly idiotic.  Do we worship it because we can’t understand it?  Come to think of it, we do despise what can be easily understood, don’t we?  The film’s trick is to entangle this sentimentality with the heroism of Hawking’s physical sufferings and they should not be entangled.  No doubt Hawking’s peers argued with his maths but in place of our understanding of it we ask science to answer questions beyond its remit.  The film worships at this shrine and questioning it seems rather churlish.  It’s the science version of Shadowlands about C.S. Lewis and his marriage.

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Posted by on February 9, 2015 in At the cinema, Film Reviews


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Whiplash film posterSynopsis

J.K.Simmons as jazz teacher Fletcher who focuses on a drummer Andrew (Miles Teller) and sadistically torments him into greater achievement.  In doing this Andrew rejects his girlfriend and nearly kills himself in an accident.  Fletcher has caused tragedy for other students and is subject to disciplinary proceedings.  Will Andrew prove himself in the big concert?


J.K.Simmons plays a role reminiscent of the bullying officer in Full Metal Jacket.  His head is all whipcord muscles bulging at the moment of his snake attacks.  This is the opposite of the Blackboard Jungle since in this film it’s the teacher who terrorizes, not the student.  Fletcher’s insults are hilariously colourful as he verbally attacks anything in range.  He indicts Andrew’s parents as losers as he gets nastily personal.  Fletcher’s defence is that he must tease out genius to save the dying art form of jazz.  Charlie Bird Parker’s humiliation and eventual triumph are supposed to make him a role model.  Whiplash makes me feel like one of the uninitiated, I’ve never been able to enthuse about jazz, seems more like music from the head rather than the heart.  This is no 80s feel good dance class for a Patrick Swayze clone, the drummer smashes his fists into blood.  He suffers for his art and and makes sure everyone else suffers as well.  He is prepared to sacrifice happiness and so his girlfriend quite rightly dumps him as the drearily obsessive perfectionist that he is.  All that pain, work, and humiliation and the status of a drummer is still not great!   Apart from his father and girlfriend, nobody comes out of this well.  His fellow musicians are neurotic perfectionists ready to back stab each other.  Whiplash cleverly leaves us wondering whether taking sadistic pains really does lead to greatness or whether it’s just a weaker will succumbing to a stronger one.  This strikes a cord in the inherent puritanism of our work ethic, the snobbery of the superiority of very painful effort.  As cinema audiences we’ve become inured to cartoonish violence and nastiness, this approach to every day professional sadism gives us the thrill of recognition.  There is vicarious entertainment in another’s humiliation, right?


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