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Exodus

Exodus film posterSynopsis

Based on the biblical story of Moses leaving Pharoah Rameses’ court and learning of his Hebrew identity.  He meets God’s messenger at the burning bush.  Moses wants to free the Hebrew slaves but Rameses doesn’t agree and so is visited by the plagues.  The slaves are released then pursued by Pharoah, whose army is drowned in the Red Sea which parted for the Hebrews.

Ridley Scott’s movie is always aware of the Ten Commandments (1956) starring Charlton Heston at the height of the cheesy biblical epic.  That film catered for bible-belt sensibilities of the time.  Heston was a granite monument to stolid acting, the scenes could have come out of a Jehovah’s witnesses prayerbook.  Scott seems uneasy with the religious aspects of the story since he’s determinedly low key, wanting to avoid the embarrassments of cornball sentiment which Scott can’t resolve.  His vision of God’s messenger is a middle class British schoolboy aiming for understatement but undoing it by attacks of childish petulance, presumably substituting for God-like authority.  It’s that same trick of demurral which apologizes for numinous impart.  This is the educated liberal approach to religious mysticism for the Harry Potter generation.  This same syndrome stalked Willem Defoe in Last Temptation.  If Scott is uneasy with religion why make this film at all?  It’s analogous to doing a ‘realistic’ Robin Hood.  When the whole point is that Robin Hood should be a preposterous fantasy.  It doesn’t offend and neither does it steer between these temptations.

The sets are sumptuous and the plagues have good special effects.  The acting is pretty good, dominated by Australians.  Rameses the Pharoah becomes ever more reptilian under his face paint.  His tyranny subtly probes for advantage.  The tone of voice now overawes, and now deceives to 0kill.  Bale looks reliably tortured as he gazes nobly into any reminder of his conscience.  Rameses and Pharoah are the brothers who learn they are not so:  loss and finding of self, about keeping faith with one’s identity.  It’s a message that’s become urgently pertinent to our world.

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Posted by on January 25, 2015 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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Out of the Furnace

Out of the Furnace film posterSynopsis

Russell (Christian Bale) works in a steel mill and is paying off the gambling debt of his brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) who is in between Iraq military tours.  Rodney gets into bare knuckle boxing influenced by John (Willem Dafoe).  John is threatened by Harlan (Woody Harrelson).  Harlan is violent towards women and men.  Russell goes stag hunting with his uncle Gerald (Sam Shephard).  Russell causes deaths in a motor accident and is imprisoned losing his partner.  Harlan kills Rodney and goes after John.  Russell seeks revenge…

Review

This is a failure of a film.  It tries very hard to be like The Deer Hunter but falls short.  Russell and Gerald hunt stags just like in The Deer Hunter but we know Russell is really sensitive because he does not like killing animals, although he’s okay about going after people.  Deer hunting seems to have passed the ‘Outstanding Appropriate Symbol test for American Values’, so it is in this film.  Shephard of course plays himself again as he did in Osage and Mud.  He is the reliably macho man of cowboy art and Marlborough Man mysticism.  Shephard’s presence in a film ensures it effortless Mount Rushmore gravitas.  Christian Bale seems determined to play down that irritatingly squeaky schoolboy he played in Empire of the Sun.  This film gives us the most reliable red neck cliches: the decent cop that the good woman lives with, the silent strong guy who becomes a reluctant killer, the cartoonish psycho waiting for his comeuppence (Woody Harrelson also has to live down the good natured guy in Cheers).  There’s the usual inability to resist the drug of gun vigilantism we see in numerous films e.g. Mud.  The film is all steel town tattoo and sawn-off denim orthodoxies, the plot is the stuff of lots of country and western ballads.  Violence and self pity perform their usual ever so slow and self absorbed dance.  The woman is of course the usual voice of decency and conscience, all nurturing and support.  Guess what – she is a primary school teacher.  If she hadn’t been that, she would have been a social worker.  The closest this film gets to thoughtfulness is Russell looking moody on his porch. Casey Affleck’s Rodney (who ever heard of an American soldier called Rodney?) of course says all the right things about the horrors of war as if you have to go to Iraq to work that out.  Like deer hunting, bare knuckle fighting also passed the ‘Outstandingly Appropriate Symbol test for American Values’.  Rodney might regret violence but he’s hoping to knock the lamplight out of his opponents in order to pick up money.  Willem Dafoe plays his often tried rattyman-with-mence.  The confrontation between him and Harlan provides the only real tension.  There are interesting details of a steel town but these are sacrificed as placements for the arthritic familiarities we associate with the industrial proletariat on film.  All these distinguished actors can’t save this film from catastrophe.

 
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Posted by on April 16, 2014 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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THE DARK KNIGHT RISES

The Dark Knight Rises posterSynopsis

The third of the Christopher Nolan Batman films.  Batman (Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne) is wrongly accused of killing.  He has retired.  Gotham is under threat from a villain called Bane, who wears a face guard.  He takes over Gotham and turns it into a failed state of mob rule.  Batman must take on Bane but is imprisoned and he must escape.  He and Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) fight Bane and his gang…

Criticism

I’m not a fan of the comic book (sorry, graphic novel) genre and I’m still surprised that anyone can take seriously a guy who wears a mouse mask, pants, and tights in rubber.  I remember the Adam West Batman of the 60’s and it was a camp send up.  Still, we do take it all seriously and it does have origins in Gothic style.  The advantage that Batman has over the other superheroes is that because he’s human then the challenge is all the greater.  His indestructible motorbike is like a fold up black quad bike, and his air craft is a super hi-tech black cranefly.  These are accessories to the Bruce Wayne character.  Christian Bale plays Batman as an initially unsympathetic Howard Hughes recluse who goes through a re-learning experience to become a hero again.  Batman’s enemy is Bane whose story goes back to the prison Batman must escape from.  Bane is played by Tom Hardy wearing a sort of bondage cum rugby mask and he sounds like he’s talking through a bucket.  One critic has mentioned that there is no substitute for Heath Ledger’s Joker, but to be fair to Hardy’s Bane, the Joker had a slighter physical build whereas Bane is all menace from physical power.  Bane turns Gotham City into an anti-capitalist stronghold run by gang lords.  Cillian Murphy presides over the kangaroo court which enacts our fantasies about retribution for the unaccountable over-mighty lords of the world.  The forces of law and order are aided by Detective Blake (Joseph Gordon Levitt) who looks like he might be the next Robin.  Marion Cotillard and Morgan Freeman play the technicians with their fingers on bomb buttons.  One of the main characters, like Bane, is involved in the League of Shadows (the oriental martial arts cult in which Batman plays a part).  Anne Hathaway is Catwoman, a girl next door turned into a fashion statement in black. Michael Caine plays his butler Alfred like a wounded surrogate father.   Caine seems genuinely upset, maybe from watching some of his past film roles.

The script is good enough to leave you waiting for the next line, and it’s a tribute to its effectiveness that the absurdity of the Batman regalia doesn’t undermine it.  Gotham under Bane’s rule is any graphic novel dystopia of gloom, like Gustave Dore drawings in hi-tech.  Undoubtedly the best of the Batman films.

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Posted by on August 9, 2012 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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I’m Not There

I'm Not There poster

Todd Haynes’ 2007 film about Bob Dylan is not a biopic, it’s a montage of portrayals through several actors.  Significantly, the only really good performance is from Cate Blanchette playing Dylan in his most controversial mid sixties phase.  The other performances highlight how average Dylan was outside the mid sixties, from fictitious hobo and Woody Guthrie wannabee parasite to mysogynistic rocker. The comparison of Dylan with Rimbaud is grandiloquently absurd.  Haynes is meticulous on period details, to the point of parody (see Far from Heaven), so the film is superb on period details of Dylan’s strummer-turned surreal rocker from ’64 to ’67.

In parts, Blanchette’s performance eerily replicates the tetchy prima donna of the 1965 Don’t Look Back film, and we get accurate observations on the tacky hedonism of the Warhol period.  We also get Godard-type scenes where our hero follows a socialite to impress her with superstar nonsense.

The film cleverly guys the ’70s stovepipe-hatted cowboy mystic style, complete with surreal stereotypes from the Basement Tapes cover, poses courtesy of Jesse James, rock star as outlaw hero.

Dylan has not had a happy relationship with cinema .  His own appearances have been lamentable.  Don’t Look Back showed how amphetamined  middle brow chatter can cover for vacuity, and of his ’70s and’80s film appearances the less said the better.  The Edie Sedgwick film does not flatter either.

As for the man himself, Dylan’s supposed martyrdom by fame and easy success reminds me of that Peter Cooke joke about Greta Garbo disregardedly wandering down an empty street shouting ‘I want to be alone’ through a megaphone.  He backed into the limelight manufacturing a career out of being an ‘enigma’, not only does he complain when people then wonder what sort of enigma he is, he doesn’t realise it’s something the rest of us manage to be, without trying.  As for which of the Bob Dylan’s is the real one, does anyone really care?  The film shows us, albeit inadvertently, how overrated Dylan could be, outside his talent for media manipulation and impressing people with obscure phraseology wrapped in disparate imagery in songs lacking narrative development.  This film tells us a lot about Todd Haynes, like Oliver Stone he is obviously obsessed with the myths of the ’60s and ’70s and sees Dylan’s career as an excuse to raid the cliche wardrobe.  There is temporal cross cutting which does not cohere into a recognisable biography which was undoubtedly Haynes’s intention.  Perhaps he wanted the film to be an analogy of a Dylan song or story, driven by image rather than narrative.  There are justly cruel observations on Dylan’s manager, on Warhol groupies, on pampered Edie Sedgwick and Francoise Hardy types, on Ginsberg, and the’50s.  Haynes maybe parodying the rock biopics served with the usual stereotypes of Kennedy, Vietnam, the moon landings etc, just in case we don’t get what the 60’s was all about.

Haynes gives the Cate Blanchette persona an easy ride allowing his bathetic remarks  to stand unchallenged  and of course anybody not in with the Dylan psyches private jokes is nowhere. Haynes is also good on the fawning establishment’s pathetic attempts to be hip and to ride his bandwagon.

Perhaps Haynes is satirising aspects of the Dylan myth, but isn’t he also augmenting it?  It reminds me of those interviewers who would like to talk to Dylan but retreat into a distanced cool because afraid of a rebuff.  Anybody coming to Dylan for the first time through this film might wonder if they are being manipulated and fooled.  Haynes has made a clever film which manages to lionise and lampoon Dylan as it’s ultimately forgiving of his faults.  A patchily good film about an unsympathetic subject.

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2011 in Film Reviews, Independent films

 

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