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The Rover

The Rover film posterSynopsis

Australia, ten years after “The Collapse”.  Starring Guy Pearce as Eric whose car has been stolen and he chases the thieves.  He faces them down, they leave and he follows.  On the way he meets an old woman (Gillian Jones) who asks him to take her grandson.  One of the car thieves is Henry Scott McNairy whose brother Ray (Robert Pattinson ) travels with Eric.  He takes the wounded Ray to a doctor (Susan Prior) who keeps dogs locked up to prevent people taking them for food.  Eric comes on to a military camp and its “soldiers” take “outlaws” to Sydney.  Maybe the “soldiers” are bounty hunters.  Eric and Ray track down the car thieves…

Review

A mixture of a post-apocalypse film and a western in which Eric is semi-mute and kills whoever crosses him, while Ray is an idiotic inarticulate side kick with a dixie accent.  Neither are burdened with moral subtleties, heroic aspirations are well beyond their remit.  Eric is on a mission of vengeance (naturally),  he was a farmer who lost his family.  The film doesn’t even bother to make excuses for casual death by gunfire, so I wondered if Sam Shepherd might turn up to provide some corny rationale.

SPOiLER ALERT!  At the end of the film after killing the car thieves, Eric burns their bodies but lovingly buries his dog (was it in the boot of the car?).  The dog symbolizes loyalty which is the one value Eric adheres to in this amoral wasteland.  Anyone who is suspected of being predatory can expect to be shot,  we are in Mad Max country here, without the bikers and neolithic settlements.  This is directed by David Michôd who made the violent gangster film Animal Kingdom.  It also nods towards Wake in Fright as it joins other stories of a dystopian Australia.  This is simply what was once a society now lawlessly breaking down.  The Australian landscape in Rover is a desiccated dust bowl lacking the romanticism of Tracks.  Its dismal wasteland is punctuated with the emblems of primitive chic: a vulture flapping over the injured Eric, victims crucified on telegraph poles, rusting metal, derelict houses.  People are depraved by the nihilism of kill or be killed, we even get that reliable standby of art house films, the mean irascible dwarf.  Apart from the woman doctor who cages dogs for their protection (and who is kind and loyal), the rest of the cast live in a shitstorm of despair and rage.  The military are not here to enforce law and order but to capture drifters and take them to some possibly grisly fate in Sydney.  The empty savagery is punctuated with dialogue which is brutally to the point. Draws you in.

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Posted by on September 10, 2014 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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Lawless

Lawless fil posterSynopsis

Stars Tom Hardy and Shia LaBeouf as the Bondurass family in 1931 Prohibition era Virginia, and their conflict with Guy Pearce (the federal agent Charlie Rakes) who is out to close their illegal stills.  Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska play their girlfriend and wife.  The police are reluctant locals recruited into Guy Pearce’s war.  It ends in a shoot out.

Criticism

This is very familiar stuff.  We get the honky tonk soundtrack lovingly ‘choreographing’ the scenes of predictable violence.  The film is a celebration of brutality and ‘primitive’ ways of living.  Despite the time and place, it’s effectively a western with a wearisomely familiar reverence for any excuse for bloodshed.  Guy Pearce plays Charlie Rakes, a Federal Agent, he is a dandified sadist straight out of Nazi central casting.  He will get his comeuppance, and of course we are meant to feel that he will deserve his bad end.

From the 30s to the 60s we had repressive cinematic codes forbidding the depicting of sex, swear words, and horrifying violence.  In the few decades since the lifting of the code we get film making its claim for gritty, earthy reality by throwing in buckets of blood, Nazi style sadism, and lots of tediously limited vocabulary punctuated with wearisome swearing.  Sex is also obligatory, as if only the late 20th century had discovered it.  Many films wallow in this, then we get the convenient excuse of it’s all being artistically ‘choreographed’ (though I fail to see what resemblance there is between dance and gratuitous violence).  Admittedly the old censorships sanitized reality quite preposterously, but now we have gone to the other extreme and it’s all so solemnly presented rather like a caught out criminal giving would be intelligent excuses for vile behaviour (the more sincerely insisted upon the more acceptable).  This might work for Mel Gibson because he adds the original touch of characters speaking in a language different from English, but so many films seek significance in violence.  We get sadism galore in this film.

Prohibition era films usually happen in Al Capone territory.  We also get the anthropological curiosity of the local church and its Amish look-a-likes with their highly charged gospel songs.  We also get that curious prolepsis into violence as depicted in Bonnie and Clyde, illiterate hillbillydom is always destined to end in bloodshed as if sanctioned by the very ignorance and illiteracy of the characters..

 
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Posted by on September 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Prometheus

Prometheus posterSynopsis

Ridley Scott’s prequel to Alien, though it has been denied that it is.  Scientists Noomi Rapace (Elizabeth Shaw) and Logan Marshall Green (Holloway) discover cave paintings showing giants pointing to the stars.  Then in 2093 a spaceship travels to outer space.  On board is an android (Michael Fassbender playing David) who wakes the crew up, and they explore the moon they’re on, which orbits a ringed planet.  Charlize Theron plays Meredith Vickers, head of the Weylon Corporation.  The scientists want answers to our origins, Vickers has other priorities.  The crew explore a giant installation and they find alien eggs and they are attacked by these aliens.  They find a giant humanoid, a survivor of the spaceship.  Will the humanoid attack the crew and what will the aliens do…..?

Criticism

In spite of protestations to the contrary, this is the prequel to Alien.  Ironically, of course, the earlier events in this 2012 film enjoy the benefit of advanced cinematic technology unavailable to the later events of the 1979 film.  There is little hint here of how the world of the Alien film could be tacky and picaresque, the antiseptic hi-tech of Prometheus would preclude this.   Prometheus is closer in appearance to the blander, more amenably hi-tech, world of 2001.  Prometheus is pre-occupied with life and death, the nature of mortality, and our own origins.  Elizabeth Shaw is committed to our being created by a high intelligence, so she is no Darwinist.  If you think about this, then a lot of sci-fi must be inimical to Darwin because it insists on the creation of artificial and natural life, even in 2001 there was the intervention of a black monolith to get us going.  Elizabeth Shaw wants to know why the giants turned against humans.

Ridley Scott also explores the boundary of human and non human intelligence in the relationship between the android David and the scientists.  Scott explored this in Blade Runner (1982) when the androids poignantly aspire to human status.  David likes to watch Lawrence of Arabia, no doubt identifying with Lawrence’s indifference to ordinary behaviour.  David seems essentially benign, which makes Ridley’s later fear of androids less excusable.

The dialogue between the crew members is mostly professional, political, and not disinterested.  The Weylon Corporation behaves in a sinisterly secretive fashion.  The scientists do not work as a team, more like business rivals.

Prometheus takes us back to the hollow installation with its Giger style that we first saw in Alien.  The look is all metallic insect exo-skeleton.  It is a sort of organic geometry which reminds me of Gaudi’s Barcelona architecture.  The humanoid giants look like Michelin men from the car tyre commercial and their eyes make them look like they’re wearing giant sapphires as contact lenses  The aliens have of course become familiar, and in Prometheus the parameters of their appearance have only extended a little.  Now they look like tattooed multi-eyed octopi.  Their modus operandi are insect like and parasitic.

Prometheus elaborates on the Alien scenario rather than explaining it, presumably to leave scope for a sequel, which looks likely given the ending.

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2012 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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The King’s Speech

Synopsis

About ‘Bertie’, The Duke of York, who became George VI after the abdication of his older brother who was Edward VIII.  Bertie is played by Colin Firth as the stammering, vulnerable son of the insensitive George V, played by Michael Gambon.  Mrs Bertie is Elizabeth (later known to Spitting Image fans as the Beryl Reid-voiced termagent) who subsequently became the Queen Mother, is played by Helena Bonham Carter.  She gets Bertie to visit a  speech therapist, played by Geoffrey Rush, known as Logue who is Australian with thespian aspirations and is a likeable no nonsense professional.  He has kids who read Shakespeare.  Bertie attends Logue’s sessions until he considers that Logue gets above himself by giving advice about the possible abdication of Edward VIII, who resigns, and Bertie prepares to be King, cold shouldering the petitionary Logue.  Eventually Bertie gets back to lessons with Logue and as George VI he makes a great Logue-directed speech to boost war morale.

Criticism

This is yet another film which is quite flattering about monarchs and the charms of constitutional monarchy.  One thinks of Frear’s Elizabeth and the recent Young Victoria.  There is no doubt that Firth gives a powerful performance as a vulnerable victim of Victorian emotional crassness, his struggle to assert his decency and humanity are quite touching.  Firth in this role shows that same interesting good man frailty you get from Ian Holm, the repressed decencies through frail sensitivity.  His sessions with the equally superb Geoffrey Rush are gripping, they resemble the best of psychological sparring matches.  For a supposedly inarticulate bumbler, Bertie is given some pretty sharp ripostes, as is Logue.  The Australian seems to be his own man, insisting the sessions are on his terms.  Inevitably, he probes Bertie’s emotional frailties and his cure is a way to overcome this, symmptomized by his stammer.  Logue uses Bertie’s anger when he takes the mickey out of coronation silliness, the would-be King is angered by disrespect but the horrible bit comes earlier when Bertie thinks Logue has overstepped the limits of propriety.  He rebuffs Logue by sulkily ignoring him and accusing him of near treason when Logue wants to discuss Bertie’s options over Edward VIII’s behaviour.  Now this is the part of the film where it’s deference gets suffocating:  we are expected to applaud Bertie for slumming it with a ‘commoner’ (why do we not find this word amusing?).  He does this like Prince Hal in Henry IV but he ultimately remembers the gulf that divides them, the chumminess is meant simply to emphasise royalist mystique.  The audience dutifully laughed at H.  Bonham Carter’s cheerful informalities.  Insofar as the film uses this gulf, it seems to endorse the very alienation that later might be overcome, but whose legitimacy is not questioned.  Bertie shows his decency by apologising for his aloofness, quite commendable, but any relationship is on his terms because he is the monarch.

This film shares with other films about monarchs a fashionable contempt for politicians as such knowing that it would resonate with audiences prepared to despise politicians over expenses scandals.  The monarch is flatteringly shown to be disinterestedly superior to the self seeking politicians concerned only to dissimulate in their desire to manipulate.  Said monarch uses mystical twaddle about “my people” and the stoutness of the “common man”, such archaisms are meant in all seriousness.  This I suppose should be no surprise in this age of celebrity cultism.

Edward VIII is played by Guy Pearce and, as usual, is shown as self-centred.  I often suspect that he abdicated not because of his relationship with Simpson but because he had sympathies with the Nazi regime, so he cut and ran.  He merely emphasises George VI’s reliability.

The film is perceptive about this period:  the grey tackiness never far away from the rococo pomp and the fawning silliness over all the Puritarian liturgy.  This sort of film has been made possible by Richard Curtis and his tourist industry makeover of a deferential Britain of mum and dad, Arthur Mee, and Ovaltine commercials.  It skilfully uses nostalgia for 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s deference in the service of a monarchy in the same way that Disraeli used populist philistinism to revive the monarchy in the 1870’s.  Firth and co try the same, with all their superb acting.  The film aims to be emotionally manipulative and it works to a degree.

Michael Gambon’s George V is the given the shrewd observation that the 1930’s is the first time that monarchs are required to be actors reaching into everyone’s home; precisely.  The soap opera potential of the institution was to be exploited to the full, usually to its benefit.  This film polishes the enchanted glass (a book was once written about monarchy, called The Enchanted Glass) and is happy to leave it so.

 
 

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Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom poster

Synopsis

Set in Melbourne in the 1980’s, it starts off with teenage Josh watching TV, his mother is dead next to him, dead from a heroin overdose.  He then gets involved with his relatives, a bunch of criminals who specialise in bank robberies.  Their house is under surveillance by police.  This criminal family, the Codys, are ruled over by matriarch  Jackie Weaver, a diminutive blonde.  Two of the Codys are shot by the police, one of them wanted to go straight and get into the stock market.  One member of the family is a lawyer and helps out legally, but of course does not help the police with their enquiries.  One of the Codys was shot in his car, the other does a runner in Ned Kelly country.  Ben Mendelsohn plays Andrew ‘Pope’ Cody who is a really vicious criminal.  He hotshots Josh’s girlfriend, thinking she might betray them to the police.  He goes to jail but Jackie Weaver gets him out.  He gets away with that murder after killing a couple of cops.  Josh meets up with policeman Guy Pearce who plays a humane cop called Leekie.  Josh is put under witness protection but Jackie Weaver’s family get away with the murders.  Using vigilante justice, Josh kills ‘Pope’ Cody.

Review

The critics have lined up to praise this unremarkable film.  They’ve strained at the ‘animal kingdom’ metaphor, but these criminals are an insult to animals, they are mundane thugs.  Pope Cody just looks bovine, so maybe that’s an apt epithet that might justify the title.  This is just another sordid little film that pays inexplicably close attention to these morally witless wastes of time.  It’s supposed to be a close and original look at criminals, but it looked to me more like a documentary about weirdly dysfunctional people set in  Neighbours houses.  These priceless louts spend all day snorting coke and undermining each other’s sanity.  The only faintly interesting Cody gets killed, aware of a different way of life.  Houses always look immaculate, nobody seems to attend to the ordinary details of life.

Josh is a thoroughly unsympathetic person, not just the usual surly adolescent, but seems almost catatonically stupid, the sort of automaton who could walk through world war without blinking.  At least Tarantino’s  goons have a sense of humour, this guy hasn’t any claim on our attention   His girlfriend is a bit sympathetic and she introduces him to her parents who are weak and well meaning, still, visiting a couple of psychopaths  jacking up on heroin is not the smartest move she ever made.  The matriarch reminds me of the blonde matriarch in The Fighter, and of course she’s like Barbara Windsor being the mother of the Kray twins, a character familiar to the point of comedy  She is clever and manipulative but as far as competition goes she is like a pike in a pond of minnows.  She threatens effectively using police contacts but she can be as mindlessly sociopathic as the rest.  The one sympathetic character is the policeman Leekie.  He talks about the shortness of bugs’ lives in a much longer lived forest, and this ponderous metaphor is presumably meant to justify the film’s title.  He tries to win Josh round to the better part of himself, which for me was invisible at the start of the film, his  sympathy seems lost on Josh.  We know Leekie is solid and decent because he is a family man, cinema’s ultimate badge of approval.  We know he’s got the soul of a social worker.  He’s probably as baffled as the rest of us as to know how criminals can enjoy  their egregious ways of earning a living.

For seventy or eighty years we’ve had the often unedifying spectacle of cinema’s loving fascination with dangerous criminals, it’s vicarious thrills and erotic voyeurism can’t explain the whole of it.  A much better job was done by Sydney Lumet’s Before the Devil knows You’re Dead, which expertly shared the awful claustrophobia of a criminal life.  It shared how people get into a horrifying situation, so there is a human tragedy behind the crime, while Animal Kingdom wallows in crime as such and doesn’t bother to enquire into the circumstances that made people criminals.  This overrated tosh comes  nowhere near Lumet’s film.  People didn’t have small mobile phones in the 1980’s, did they?  They did in this film.

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2011 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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