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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.

Review

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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The Impossible

The Impossible

Synopsis

A Spanish film based on the story of the Spanish family, the Alvarez Belons, and how they were separated by a tsunami which hit their beach resort in 2004 and how they are re-united after searching through chaos and wreckage.  Henry Barrett is the dad (Ewen McGregor) a British businessman based in Japan (finds out he’s lost his job), his partner is Maria (Naomi Watts).  Maria is lost with her son Lucas (Tom Holland) and Harry is left with Thomas and Simon.  Do they all re-unite?.

Criticism

There has been quite a debate about making the tsunami a tourist tragedy rather than a tragedy for the Thai people.  The complaint is that this affected far more Thai people than tourists (the main catastrophe was in Indonesia), so the film should reflect this.  If you follow this logic then any film made in a foreign (especially poor) country in which the stars are white actors is not acceptable, but why not?  This argues that the contents of a film should reflect the demography of the setting, so anything exceptional done by locally exceptional or different people is not permissable..  This is surely absurd, for example Lawrence of Arabia is about a white guy in Arabia, not about an Arab in Arabia.  The opposing argument might insist that in tragedy like this we should only watch Thai people in the disaster that struck their coast.  Most of the victims in this film are white so the anti-white tourist argument certainly has a point.  What the anti-white tourist argument could more cogently say is that the film invites us to be voyeurs of disaster and tourists of others’ miseries.  My main problem with The Impossible is that it unthinkingly illustrates the soft colonialism of the ‘compassionate’ rich of affluent countries.  The Thai people and scenery only become cinematically interesting when they suffer a catastrophe and we can all feel like benevolent UN aid workers in our concern for the victims.  The Beach does not exaggerate the narcissistic awfulness of some tourists.  You could see The Impossible as showing the benevolent humanity that some white tourists are capable of, but does this have to be a matter of such self congratulation?  One is reminded of these besieged westerners in The Killing Fields.  The psycho drama of western privilege in moral choice.  Ewen McGregor is a nice guy who does a lot of good work but he’s a bit of a re-cycled professional Brit (like John Mills or Anthony Steele), the acceptable face of globally branded British-ness.  This is disaster porn, we see the aesthetics of apocalyptic breakdown in the dirty hospitals and wrecked landscapes, we become tourists of the vicarious.  The dramatic scope of loss and finding, of searching and emotional recovery, are fully milked in this coffee table trip through others’ tragedies however tastefully acted it may be.

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2013 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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The Painted Veil

The Painted Veil film posterSynopsis

Based on Somerset Maugham’s 1925 novel.  Naomi Watts plays Kitty who marries Edward Norton’s Walter who is a bacteriologist.  It’s the early 1920s and they go off to China.  Watts has a brief affair with Liev Schreiber then goes off to her posting where Toby Jones plays Waddington, the British consul.  The Norton-Watt’s relationship is divorce material but they learn love and respect through life and work.  She gets into voluntary work and Norton tries to eliminate cholera, winning over an initially sceptical army officer.  It ends tragically.

Criticism

This is a familiar story featuring Victorian morality against the forces of love, sex, and work.  Norton at least has a purpose in his Chinese posting, whereas Watts is required to be decorative and bored.  She finds redemptive purpose in voluntary work (helping the nuns in the local school).  Norton is righteously unforgiving towards Watts for ‘betraying’ him but eventually respects Watts’ striving for authenticity and purpose.  The characters are familiar from ‘colonial’ dramas, there is comical disparity between the emotional repression expected of Brits abroad and their real sexual and psychological needs.  Toby Jones seems to be the precursor of Graham Greene exiles in British imperial ennui, world weary as they are a sympathetic source of wise advice and emotional counsel.  Their faces are mask-poised over the anticipated emotional revelations.

The Chinese themselves are from familiar casting: the no-nonsense grandmother, the cooperative orphans, the resentful officer contemptuous of imperialist foreigners, the stoical death scenes, the competing values of British noblesse oblige and Chinese endurance in the ‘bitter sea’ of China, the suspicious questioning of the foreign’s motives.

The rural scenes invite lyricism: the vivid green grass, the beehive mountains, the shot of dense colour through silk, the contemplative lingering over the portentous juxtaposed with the unexpectedly beautiful.  The acting always holds the attention. Quite absorbing.

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2012 in Film Reviews, Out on DVD

 

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J. Edgar

J. Edgar posterSynopsis

Covers the history of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s chief J. Edgar Hoover from early anti-Communist crusader to his control of the FBI from the ’30s to his death in 1972.  It sees his establishment of ideologically and personally acceptable personnel, of new crime hunting methods used in tracking down such people as Hauptmann, the alleged murderer of Lindbergh’s kidnapped child.  It looks at his supposed capture of gangsters and in the 60’s his attempted blackmailing of Martin Luther King.  It also looks at his manipulative role with the Kennedy family in the early ’60s.  It’s all told in flashbacks.  We see his relationship with his secretary (who rebuffs him as a possible marriage partner) and his gay friend Clyde Tolson.  We see his dominating mother and her influence on his life.

Criticism

This is directed by Clint Eastwood who as a conservative Republican can’t be expected to be overly critical of that reactionary monster and he isn’t.  The  criticisms tend to be ineluctable because they are too obvious: Hoover was corrupted by absolute power which undermined the very ideals he claimed to be defending.  So that in the name of individual liberty he used blackmail, wire tapping, and other manic bureaucratic surveillance techniques, what a cosmic irony!  Eastwood’s film wants us to believe Hoover was a decent geek whose control freakery was at first the lovable quirk of an overly mother dominated young man.  He was determined to hunt down all perceived opponents of his conservative America, suffocating intellectual dissent in the process.  We are given hints of the Howard Hughes school of sociopathy by his loonily controlling mother, it’s a wonder he survives it (though he did put on her dress).  He seems to have lived in an antiseptic chamber of effete spite (bodily contact not welcome).  Eastwood’s criticism is gentle (eerily so), we learn that Hoover did not personally arrest gangsters, as if we believed otherwise!  His rule was unaccountable and his self righteous paranoia factored into a red neck witch hunting mentality.  Others were sacrificed to enhance his career: was there conclusive proof about Hauptmann’s guilt?  He nearly destroyed Martin Luther King by slander.  Anyone who crossed him he could threaten with impunity.  Leonardo di Caprio tries to convey understanding for his despicable actions but he only succeeds in making Hoover look pathetically deluded and isolated.

The use of prosthetics has been remarked on, how it makes the actors look in old age like plaster mummies.  It seems the technology of prosthetics in cinema is still not properly developed, the actors do look like they’ve been in a flour fight.  At times the film looks like a camcorder’s spying on a prosthetics party: very weird.  Prosthetics of course are not meant to be flattering if it shows older age (but it should convey natural aging), but the crudity of this art cannot do this.  Naomi Watts as Helen Candy looks frumpy, maybe she should sue Eastwood.  Armie Hammer plays Clyde Tolson, his initial demurrals against Hoover’s criminality succumb to his control.  The film says that Tolson’s gayness was not reciprocated, so it derives interest from a controversial relationship whilst keeping Hoover free of what makes it interesting.  One’s sympathy for Armie Hammer or Tolson is killed early on since they were willing cronies and only seemed to have eleventh hour attacks of conscience.  They were morally compromised drudges.

The film tries to take too much on.  It has to cover a career from the twenties to 1972, we see nothing of the ’40s and ’50s.  Hoover’s career should have been covered by two or three films.  The only satisfactory voice in the film is that of fellow rogue Richard Nixon who dismisses Hoover as a creep.  Like The Iron Lady it’s told in flashbacks about an unlovable right wing figure.

Biopics

This gets me onto the two biopics.  The Iron Lady and J. Edgar and their flashbacks through the prosthetics department.  We seem to be witnessing the cosy domestication of right wing thugs and since we’ve been suffering right wing political thuggery since the 1980’s, I suppose it’s hardly surprising.  Why not make a cosy biopic about Al Capone?  We could see him in old age (we can slap on a lot of white make up even though he was only 47 when he died), and he can tell his lovable story in flashbacks.  Forget the misunderstandings about the occasional killing, after all he was a misunderstood family man and a well meaning businessman.  Don’t pay any attention to that nasty Eliot Ness who was only envious anyway.  We could get Robert de Niro to bring a tear to our eyes as he plays good old Al singing Italian ballads.

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2012 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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