Friday, 20 October 2017

How can you run and plot at the same time?

The Death of Stalin (2017)
Chosen by me because I'm a long time fan of Iannucci 
and it had one of the funnier trailers I'd seen in quite some time.

Iannucci is one of the UKs finest comedic minds. Sharp, satirical but also very, very silly he covers it all and has helped deliver some amazing shows over the years - Alan Partridge (created by others but firmly stamped on by him) may be a lasting legacy but his other works like the Day Today or The Armando Iannucci Show are strange offbeat works and The Thick of It (also the terrific spin-off In the Loop and sort of sequel Veep) are masterpieces of their kind.
There was no doubt he couldn't handle the farcical aspects of Stalinist history (downplayed slightly in this film as time is contracted is just how long old Joe went without proper medical assistance hindered by the fact he had the doctors in Moscow rounded up and tortured shortly before becoming ill) but thankfully he doesnt loose sight of the horror of it all.
Especially as this is Iannucci's first time with real figures and not analogues a concern could have been that by highlighting the bufoonery and absolute narcissism inherent in the Soviet political system (not a stretch to apply this to modern times and differing countries at all, because political satire will always be relevant) it would downplay the brutality and be a disservice to the many who died.
Well on the first part it does not lack. The people here are all monsters, Jeffrey Tambor may be playing the most Jeffrey Tambor type possible, but he is still edged with horror, these scared little men projecting out their insecurities onto everyone around them, infesting the country from the top down. 
The victims here are perhaps given short shrift, occasionally punchlines - like those in an Siberian prison half of whom are shot just before the order comes through to halt the killings, the other half disorientated but alive. It cant quite make sense of the outpouring of grief from a populace hammered by an oppressive regime as factual as that might have been.
Instead it offers up a talented pianist as the only voice daring to confront Stalin, and though well played by Olga Kurylenko she is a touch too slight a character to register much (Kurylenko seems to excel at giving underwritten roles a touch of grit and personality and deserves more).
It is often incredibly funny, though not as much as In the Loop say, but the over-riding tone is more bleak and the final punchline grimly cynical as a black fuzzy eyebrowed man looks down at the current leader of the USSR, plots whirling in his mind and the cycle of political bullshitery continues.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Answer the question Claire!

The Breakfast Club (1985)
I really should have been watching the dvd a friend lent me but instead I decided to properly watch a regarded classic that was on netflix that I'd never watched all the way through and mostly knew from being referenced on shows written by people who were in their 20s in the 80s.

The poster almost acts as a sequel because we don't actually know what happens on monday. This suggests that they do as Claire says and ignore each other. Maybe Bender gets accused of stealing her diamond earring. Hopefully Ally Sheedy whose character name I cant remember if it was even mentioned, chooses to dress however the hell she wants. So Emilio Estevez doesnt recognise her on monday and that romance which comes from having said about three words to each other is nothing but tears in rain. Anthony Michael Hall is presumably pulled out of school for bringing in a gun rather than just getting one days detention, and is given counselling and help.  Claire is clearly suffering from depression but she realises the last thing she needs are this bunch of a-holes around her, berating and abusing her.
I changed primary school half way through the second year. It was a little tough coming into a new place with new people, but I made good friends with the kid next to me - Andrew Stubbings. Some of the others were more stand-offish (or probably I was). Until one kid (William something) slapped me with a glove over some distant dispute and I slapped him back. We were put into a break time detention. One of the first times I'd been in trouble like that (I think i came home and cried). Standing in the coridor outside the Heads office with a couple of other boys from my class, we couldnt stop giggling. And after that we were friends.
So I guess acting like pricks does work like this movie suggests.

But by golly this bunch are just horrid. The nicest one is an entitled rich girl who can see the trap of the clique system but also understands she's at the top of it.
The rest are given various horrible backstories to force us to sympathise with just how nasty they are being to each other.
Though I'm not sure it quite realises how bad they are at times.
The most obnoxious one, Judd Nelson given a triumphant closing freeze frame, sexually assaults one of the others after constantly questioning her promiscuous nature and the film thinks this is charming I guess? What a rogue!
It takes someone who seems absolutely comfortable in her own skin, to the extent of using her dandruff to make art and blands her up (in an echo of the ending of Grease) which miraculously gets her the jock. It's weird and boring and the same time, a potent combination.
Still bits of it are fun, but I will take Jeff, Abed and the pizza delivery guy covering the dance scene any day.


Thursday, 5 October 2017

You've never seen a miracle.

Blade Runner 2049
Chosen by me because I like to go to the cinema a lot. 

This poster is fucking terrible for such a pretty movie

Denis Villeneuve is an interesting director, who had put out some interesting films. Enemy was a terrific mood piece, deeply unsettling but may hold the key to why I did not like his Blade Runner sequel.
Gosling and Ford share space up there on that poster but this is Gosling's movie through and through.
Ford is pretty great revisiting yet another of his iconic roles from decades ago, as is almost his entire stock in trade now, but is on the margins of the film, mentioned early but not appearing for quite some time of the lengthy running total the film has.
Deakins, one of the only cinematographers to routinely be mentioned in reviews, once more works absolute magic. Every shadow, every light source, very mote of dust a work of art though occasionally it turns Blade Runner 2049 into a series of stunning paintings lacking a narrative drive.
But that fine really as the plotting is fairly spotty, and character motivations are slight and lack definition. None of it seems to make a lot of sense and Gosling's blank reaction to everything, though somewhat appropriate, can be infuriating, as you want to just shake him and ask why does nothing matter?

Going to get a bit more plot and character detailed now. 
So. Here's a pretty picture first. 

So the film is pretty fucking terrible when it comes to how it deals with it's female characters. It would be fair to say that they are shallow, lacking depth of motivation but that seems true of the male ones too. But there seems to be no reason to be so consistantly awful to each and everyone. 
Gosling's replicant is given a hologram girlfriend. And the film spends a strange amount of time in playing an angle about AI maybe? How much does she think for herself? And then her only purpose is to be fridged. 
Gosling is beaten up all the way through the film but none of the violence is as vicious as what happens to numerous woman. Robin Wright gets a horrific bit of business with a whiskey glass and a casually violent head/desk interaction that is played almost as a punchline. 
Most of the women are there to be looked at and then dismissed. The camera peruses a lot of naked flesh for no real reason.
Unlike Enemy there is no context to this misogyny, the film wants to explore the issue of what it is to be human but never really considers that females might be human. And doesn't really get around to examining what it means to be human either. It's pretty sloppy.
Why is the story Gosling's and not Deckard's actual child? A woman who is literally locked away her whole life and ignored by the film -to deliver a twist? Why is Rachel so callously regarded by everyone (a stand in actor - with cg i guess face - an example of more of the disregard the film has).
Is Mackenzie Davis (from the terrific Black Mirror episode San Junipero) a prostitute to comment on the way replicants are com-modified as purely physical commercial beings or is it just so Gosling can have a strange prelude to a sex scene with two women at the same time? Spoiler but it's the latter. And says absolutely nothing. 
The film is too long, too ponderous and pretentious to get away with being this dismissive.
Poor show.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

You're just in love with how much I love you

Mother! (2017)
Chosen by me as I like going to the cinema a lot though this one took some psyching up to go to.

There is perhaps a key to unlocking what Mother!'s symbolism and plot means. Clearly there is a lot of biblical nonsense going on and at the end it gets very on the nose with relating itself to the pain of the creative process so despite it's what-the-fuckery Mother! is fairly straightforward. In allegorical terms at least - to get there you still have to go along with it's odd (brilliant) pacing, swerves into blackly comic territory and an apocalyptic ending that feels like a Kim Newman novel where society does not need all that much of a push to descend into a bacchanalian frenzy of violence, sex, worship and cannibalism.  And throughout Lawrence is astonishingly good, in almost every frame of the movie she anchors the film's excesses with a deeply committed and emotional performance. Her character may not react the way someone in real life would but you are carried through the film by her anyway.

However what I really want to talk about is what the film meant to me.

We are shaped by the things in our immediate perception. My Nan liked to have the cocktail Snowball. So now forever ingrained in my mind is that a Snowball (which I still don't really know what it is) is an old ladies drink. Even though I've only seen one old lady drink it. We define reality by experience but forget the bias of that experience.
Currently I have been thinking a lot about my mental health. I am often a deeply unhappy and anxious person. I have within the last week sought out therapy for those issues. 
So when I say Mother! is actually all about anxiety I'm aware that it's just something that my bias would be pushing right now.

But Mother! has relayed (and triggered) my anxiety like nothing else.
I'm can't recall if I've talked on these pages about how two people talking next to a road causes me to physically tense up. The screen controls what you can see and without periphery vision (and because of the huge amount of an annoying trope) I'm convinced the people will get hit by a car. Even if it's a charming romance comedy. 
Mother! uses this control of the frame brilliantly, constantly in tight fixed position on Lawrence, the stress comes from never quite knowing what is outside the frame and is deeply unsettling. 
During the film she becomes more and more agitated by people around her. Losing control of the space, not understanding why people won't just listen to her, do the sensible thing. She craves that control, and even when, ostensibly, others are just trying to help, she can't take it, needs them to just let her do it. Every new person that turns up frustrates her more.
And she can't understand why they all like her husband, ignore her, want a physical piece of her work (the house, her child) but make her super uncomfortable.

So yeah, Mother! was super easy for me to understand. 
It's a remarkable, powerful movie, whose ending might be a bit too much but it's more art film than horror story, more a slice of mind than parable. Amazing.

Friday, 29 September 2017

You asked for help, I asked for help. That's how things get done.

I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore (2017)
Chosen by Faye on netflix. Well technically I recommended it to her because I knew she liked Elijah Wood and him and Melanie Lynskey worked together on Over the Garden Wall which she loves but then she watched it before I had and reminded me to do so. Who even cares about this bit?

Melanie Lynskey has be quietly doing solid work since her debut (and over shadowing by Kate Winslet) in Heavenly Creatures.
She is an actor of some skill and gets to show a huge range in this interesting, funny, offbeat film.
Understanding that underplaying can be especially effective, her depressed nurse who stumbles into investigating a crime that no-one seems that bothered by is a touching and empathy generating creation even whilst being kind of a prick. Especially in the times the film can be deliberately at a remove, without her it's cold dark humour may be too nihilistic to click.
Wood is very funny playing a creepy, skeevy loner and the two of them fumbling around a friendship is at times quite cute but plays second fiddle to the plot machinations for the most part.
A weird, assured first film from Macon Blair.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

it's not his fault he's so ugly

Beauty and the beast (1987)
Chosen by me as part of my musical week 
and because I fell a little for Carmela Marner in Puss in Boots

A story of a woman going from one co-dependant relationship to another.
Again, like Puss in Boots the songs are almost an afterthought and add nothing to the rather dull plodding affair.
There is no level of Christopher Walken-like performance here, no sense of fun.
The Beast's make up is not too bad but John Savage brings nothing to the role that would explain why Rebecca De Mornay would finally answer yes to his repeated request for marriage.
I'm not sure what the message of Beauty and the Beast is meant to be? It seems to suggest it is about seeing beneath surface values but instead mostly just rewards everyone for not changing at all (here have another bucket of coins) and being ok with the imprisonment of an innocent woman.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

I am a most strange and extraordinary person.

Cabaret (1972)
Another one reviewed from memory after not seeing it for quite a few years.

In high school I had a lead role in an original musical written by our drama teacher. Despite not being able to sing (when told to sing an octave lower I asked 'what's an octave' and got told to mime - I had no solos so no real problem). It got selected to go to The National Student Drama festival held in scarbourough, which was kinda cool. And whilst there I think one of the things we saw was a production of cabaret. I barely remember it. It left no lasting impression. I was still stubborn in my distaste for musicals (even though I was in one). 
But a couple of years later I went to university and saw Bob Fosse's take on the material and fell in love.
Along with Top Hat, seen a week earlier and reviewed yesterday, this really changed my opionion on what film can do.
Top Hat was sort of classically classy. Old school. Cabaret showed me what else musicals could do.
Musicals did not have to make you feel happy. Musicals did not have to be about trite feelings of love.
Musicals could be passionate about politics, reveal life in it's myriad forms and explain to me exactly why Liza Minelli was a thing (and by golly she is good in this in a way she had never equalled since).
Is there a more perfectly pointed scene showing the rise of tyranny than 'Tomorrow Belongs to Me'?
Though explicitly about the fascism created in post war Germany, it's message is timeless. We are never too far away from the creep of abused power and scapegoated minorities.
But the misery is never overpowering, it remains an enjoyable, exquisitely crafted tale with toe tapping numbers and terrific choreography. That's it's strength. And it's lasting legacy.