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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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Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Hunger Games: Catching Fire film posterSynopsis

Part two of the trilogy by Suzanne Collins about Katniss Everdene who is one of a group of young people recruited in a dystopian future by a totalitarian regime to provide reality TV killing contests.  Donald Sutherland is the tyrant and Philip Seymour Hoffman is his new games impresario. The proletariat work in mines and are subject to brutal militarized discipline.  Katniss is recruited with her boyfriend Peeta Mellark.  She meets the other contestants and appears on Stanley Tucci’s reality TV show.  The contestants are let loose on each other in the jungle…

Review

Even though this is mostly a re-cycling of the first film, that is not necessarily a bad thing.  After all, Katniss is let loose with new people facing new challenges like on a  hi-tech Dr Moreau’s island.  Philip Seymour has devised a kind of water wheel which interferes with the hunt when things get a bit slow.  They face poisonous fog, carnivorous baboons and each other.  Survival is supposed to be the paramount concern but contestants are effectively subversive when they undermine the rules and show inefficient compassion.  The satire is obviously directed at the infantile vileness of reality TV, this is Brave New World with violence rather than soma as the drug.  Elizabeth Banks re-appears as the decadent mentor of the players, in her post modernist make up and clothes she is a Blade Runner Paul Theroux-type party goer (from or a parody O-Zone) of ’70s transgressions.  Under the exotica she is a fussy martinet.  Donald Sutherland is all ruthless smarm, with his power-entitled delivery of self serving logic.  There is the usual caricature of Hollywood Rome: the chariot procession and the Neronic banquets offering its guests instant regurgitation (like in a Roman vomitarium) so as to try all food.  Corporate power relies on the availability of ritual as cliche, Hunger Games exploits this and satirizes it at the same time.  StanleyTucci as the impresario is so transparently insincere that he’s actually quite honest, a sort of study in visual irony (Simon Cowell in the X Factor is simply slimy).  This shows that sincerity and honesty do not have to be synonymous.  Katniss is superior to the other contestants, her only concession to emotion is for her family, not for any leading man.  I would say that this is a film ‘about’ adolescents and young people rather than ‘for’ them.

Since it largely repeats the idea of the first film, we get the re-appearance of the good ideas – the cornucopia, the electric dome of the sky, the sky telecasting – which are a welcome elaboration but in the next film we should expect development.

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2014 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games posterSynopsis

Set in a dystopian future, “Panem” (“Bread” as in the Roman “Bread and Circuses”) is run by an effete oligarchy who run a ruthless tribute state.  They rule over 12 districts kept in a state of 19th century industrialism.  Each district must provide two people in a “reaping” to appease Panem’s rulers.  Once selected the two will be submitted for a televised gladiatorial contest, twentyfour of them will fight it out to the death and there can only be one winner.  The contestants will be monitored by surrounding hi-tech.  Before being sent to the killing ground, the two district 12 contestants (starring Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen and Josh Hutcherson as Peta Mellark) are feasted and given celebrity treatment by Stanley Tucci as the TV prima donna.   Katniss Everdeen gets into the arena and there is a twist at the end.

Criticism

This is very entertaining but also highly derivative.  The sci-fi influences are many: 1984Logan’s RunThe Island of Dr Moreau, The Handmaid’s Tale,  Rollerball, West World, Lost, Lord of the Flies, Steven King’s Running Man, reality TV The X Factor and I’m a Celebrity Get me out of here.  Critics have talked about this being a satire on reality TV, but one should remember that some sixty or seventy years ago sci-fi predicted the gladitorialization and ritual  humiliation contestants on celebrity wannnabee TV, so this film has come full circle on that prediction by giving it an opportunistic relevance for teen audiences inured to the humiliating idiocies of Britain’s Got Talent.  The stylized broadcast hunt is then an old story in sci-fi, this film adds 21st century hi-tech to it.  The authoritarian control of resources with the consequent impoverishment of subject peoples living in industrial and craft serfdom is familiar from such as 1984, The Handmaids Tale, and Zardoz.  The juxtaposition of decadent, jaded, ruling classes surrounded by primitivized  resentments is pretty well worn, but it works to a degree in this film.  The ruling classes are dressed like 1980s New Romantics in a mixture of Blade Runner post modernist stylistic absurdities parading in some Roman court presided over by Nero or Elagabalus.  This closely replicates Zardoz and reminds me of that Joni Mitchall song from 1985 about the parasitism of the privileged on poorer people, they will resort to artifice (hi-tech games), brutality (killing), and innocence (the exploitability of vitality all for vicarious gratification).  Woody Harrelson is amusingly cynical as their contestants’ mentor and is an ex-winner.  Jennifer Lawrence hones her hunting skills as she did in Winters Bone.  Stanley Tucci and Toby Jones send up the likes of Simon Cowell smarmily ready to set up victims for the mob’s amusement.  Donald Sutherland is the big boss reminding the games organizer that sentiment towards subject people is unmerited, their exploitation must continue.

The Hunger Games is from a teen book, so might we get another teen franchise?  I hope not.  Some of the contestants are a-moral, and all are competents.  Their self conscious petulance betray an ambivalence that militates against the genuine cruelty in Lord of the Flies.  They are too readily the puppets of Panem, and plot wise this doesn’t convince.  Why don’t they turn on their masters if they have nothing to lose?  The story itself seems more overly contrived set pieces than a convincing tale about what would happen in this dystopia.  Anyway, it’s all good fun.

 
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Posted by on March 27, 2012 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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Rampart

Rampart posterSynopsis

Starring Woody Harrelson as Dave Brown, a cop in Los Angeles in the 90s.  He is bossy and brutal.  He is caught on film beating up someone who accidentally crashes into his car.  Harrelson is under investigation and rejects advice to take retirement.  He is corruptedly involved in a robbery and killing after being helped by an elderly mentor.  He has two divorced wives, who are sisters.  He has an affair with a woman he thinks may be setting him up.

Criticism

Written by James Ellroy this is a better film to listen to than watch.  You might think that police corruption and brutality are pretty well worn stories, but this film adds new details.  Harrelson is very articulate and is not browbeaten by white collar advice.  He can state his case with eloquence which is in ironic contrast to the brutality he so readily resorts to when attacking suspects.  Furthermore Harrelson’s domestic set up is interestingly almost ‘bohemian’.  His kids are arty and not afraid to talk back, one calls him “Date Rape”.  We see no actual violence inflicted on his family, and one wonders if the violence is channelled into work so saving his home life from it.  At work he insists on the prerogatives of the authoritarian bully, that menacing pedantry that will have its way even if not actually backed up by force.  A fellow police officer can’t eat her chips, he insists she finish them and she complies.  His sexual encounters turn from the predatory to self loathing as he descends into a hell awaiting well deserved retribution.  He doesn’t know how he can achieve self redemption which is all the more fascinating, given his eloquence one would have thought some kind of curative self analysis wouldn’t be impossible.  He seems transfixed by a self pity that can turn vindictive.  He is a study in isolated guilt.  This is an obsessive’s Los Angeles, rather like in that night time film set in LA in which Tom Cruise plays a killer, you don’t see much of the normal routines.  The camera sways up close and doesn’t retreat much.  We see tour bus sights of Los Angeles, all gleaming affluent gated retreats which are a facade for all kinds of moral let down and criminality, and then square miles of streets of neglected anonymity waiting to be predatorily pin pointed by the cruising police man in his car.  He usually wears black mantis shades entitling him to their secretive vantage points.  Harrelson became famous as the country bumpkin in Cheers and I couldn’t stop thinking about that.  His face is like a hunk of glazed ham that’s been squashed in a vice.  His chin looks like an offensive weapon as his beady manic eyes laser on his victim.  Sigourney Weaver plays his boss who suggests retirement, all effortless cynicism.  The other women play the familiar role of the patiently suffering guardians of sanity, though you wonder why such intelligent women could ever have had anything to do with such a nasty guy.

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2012 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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