Month: February 2017

Sorry this has been so long folks. Been rather busy. Not sure how regular these are going to be with me actually trying to be a half decent student and trying actually having a sleep schedule, but I’ll try to get them up weekly or biweekly, depending. Apologies for any typos and shitty analysis. Enjoy.

Alone. Life Wastes Andy Hardy (1998)

A kind of proto-youtube poop of the old Andy Hardy teen comedies. It’s… weird. Comparing it to YTP is sort of underselling it, (I don’t think YTP ever could reach this level of disturbing), but still, it is just a remix of previously existing clips. And with those previously existing clips it creates a tale of implied incest, unintentional orgasm sounds, and daddy issues. You know, good solid family entertainment. Like I said, it’s weird. At times funny, but very weird. And also, really freaky. Most of the film is just these clips repeating over and over again, with these horrifying sounds and strange jerky movements, combined with edits that almost act like jump scares, all of which dig so deep into the uncanny valley that the movie starts to get under my skin, in a Lynchian sort of way. Still, it’s always fun to watch something so innocent turned so very…not. Give it a look.

2 or 3 Things I Know About Her (1967)

Godard’s psyche circa 1967… THE MOVIE! Yes, this film is basically everything that Godard had on his mind at that point in time, told through weird whispery voice over and various people talking directly into the camera, most often, Mariana Vlady, playing ostensibly the main character, though it’s hard to really call her a “character” in the tradiotional sense, in the smae way that it’s hard to say that the film has a plot. The DVD descriptions would give you the impression that this is a film about a housewife/prostitute living her life or whatever, and I suppose if you took random 3 second clips of the film you might get that impression. But no, you have been mislead, this is not a film about plot, it is a film about raising philosophical, moral, and social issues and questions to the viewer through the most obtuse language possible, giving you about 5 seconds to think about it, and then it hurtles on to the next thing, and the cycle repeats itself. So, you may be wondering, what are those issues/questions?

Well:

  • What is it to speak?/What is language?
  • Objectification of women/people in general
  • The Vietnam War
  • Materialism
  • What is it to “know” something?
  • Social ills of Paris
  • Malaise
  • And about 500 other things that I didn’t get a chance to write down.

At one point during the film, I wrote in my notes “this movie is so dense I’m drowning”, which I think sums it up quite nicely. All of the topics on display here are really interesting, and the movie is hardly badly put together, nor does it poorly cover it’s topics, it’s just…. Exhausting! Every second you’re being hit with a new concept, communicated in weird metaphors and hard to follow language. Your head starts to spin, “OH GOD THERE IS SO MUCH TO THINK ABOUT, OH NO THE WORLD IS SO FULL OF SUFFERING AND HARDSHIP AND GODARD KEEPS WHISPERING IT AND I CAN’T HEAR AND THEY KEEP BREAKING THE FOURTH WALL AND OH GOD I FEEL DIZZY I’M GOING TO THROW UP”.

And so on for 83 minutes.

It’s not an easy movie to watch to be sure. However, it is very well constructed, with some gorgeous shots of Paris and it’s inhabitants. And though I did just sound like I was angry at Godard for making a film so dense, I’m not really. It’s frustrating to be sure, but, presuming you’re not repulsed by the pretension of it all, there’s a lot of things that are worth grappling with and thinking about. There’s a lot to be said for a film that gets you thinking, and when it’s done by someone with the same level of skill as Godard, it’s hard to say that it’s not worth at least one look.

14th of February

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Wes Anderson’s candy coloured comedic caper of saying the phrase “Oh hey look it’s [RECOGNISABLE ACTOR NAME]!”

Also it’s really good.

For one thing, all those recognisable actors that I just mentioned: Really good, every one of them. That same sentiment also goes for the not so famous actors. Pretty much every one is killing it, is what I’m trying to say. Ralph Fiennes and Tony Revolori in particular, as mains M. Gustave and Zero respectively, are not only excellent in their own right, but have great chemistry, working off each other extremely well, delivering most of the funniest scenes in what is a very funny movie, as well as pretty much all of the most poignant ones. 

And of course, like any Wes Anderson film, it’s immaculately made. I know his freakishly geometric style isn’t exactly everyone’s bag, but I personally really enjoy it. Everything feels hyper constructed and unreal, but that aesthetic just adds to the playfulness and the fun of the film.

Did I mention it’s fun? I should, because it it so much fun. It’s fun to look at, it’s fun to watch the increasingly nutso plot play itself out, it’s fun watching all these well known actors, who are all clearly having a blast, deliver the hilarious dialogue. All fun, all the time.

And yet, in spite of that, It’s also strangely melancholy. Mostly this is just a result of the use of several different time periods during the film, seem to serve one purpose, and one purpose alone, a purpose you’re made aware of from the first shot onward: Pretty much every character you’ll have any reason to care about is almost certainly long dead. This kind of casts a cloud over the whole movie, that other “period” (I hesitate to use that word with this film, but I can’t think of much else) pieces wouldn’t ever bother to make so specific. While you’re watching the film, most of you is going “oh yeah, this a blast”, but then the movie reminds you every so often that this movie takes place quite a long time ago and that the march of time has come for these characters, as it comes for all.

So, what purpose does that serve? Why bring the mood down with that small reminder that everybody’s gonna die and there’s nothing we can really do about. 

Well, I guess I’d say that it’s for pathos. For the reason of turning a film that should just be particularly delicious junk food into something that’ll actually move you, to some extent. To add a degree of emotional complexity that, at a glance, wouldn’t seem that emotionally complex at all. And it is all the better for it.

Or maybe I’m just a pretentious teenager who knows.

19th of February

The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)

Umm… What to say about The Man Who Fell to Earth? It’s a confounding film really, the kind of forces you to do mental gymnastics if you want to figure out what, if anything it’s trying to say. Is it about consumerism? The depravity of humanity? Corruption of the soul? All of those things? None of them? I don’t know, maybe I’m reading too much into it. Maybe it’s just about tone, about feeling like you’re completely lost as to what is going, but you don’t really mind, following a stranger in a stranger land…


But I haven’t even really said anything actually concrete about the film at this point, have I? Well, The Man Who fell to Earth is a 1976 science fiction film directed by Nicolas Roeg, of Don’t Look Now and Walkabout fame. It also happens to star beloved musician and dead-for-a-year-but-it-still-feels-recently deceased celebrity David Bowie, in the role of Thomas Jerome Newton, an alien from a dying planet in search of the precious water that his race is in desperately short supply of. To paraphrase from just about every piece of writing about this film, this was the role Bowie was born to play. I mean, he doesn’t really do a lot of particularly difficult acting, but just from looking the way David Bowie did in 1976, and giving off the vibe that he did around that time, he really does make you think that he’s from another planet. All the other performances in the film are good too, with Rip Torn and Candy Clark being the standouts, basically on the merit of being the only two who get more than a couple of lines, but none leave quite as strong an impression as the main star (though that, to be fair, is difficult). I should also mention that it is gorgeous to look at, being shot primarily in New Mexico, with some lovely desolate locations.

It’s also edited in (what I am told) to be Roeg’s trademark style, with heaps of cross cutting, jump cuts, and several time skips that are not always entirely clear, which isn’t exactly helpful in trying to follow the already rather opaque plot, but it does add a lot of meaning to several scenes that would be rather bland without it.
Anyway suffice to say, overall I did quite enjoy it. While I’m not entirely sure exactly what it is trying to say, if anything, it does make for strangely compelling viewing, with it’s very strange take on what is, essentially, a rather familiar tale. Worth checking out, though do be prepared to be a bit perplexed.

Reviews/Rambles for the Week of 30th of January through to 5th of February

Same disclaimer as last week; very rambly, sorry for any typos. Enjoy.

Bande à Part (1964)
Oh Godard, you scoundrel. Apparently, this is his most accessible film, which I guess I agree with, though I refuse to call any Godard film entirely “accessible”. It’s probably the easiest to enjoy on just a surface level, as a crime caper that’s set in Paris with the ever wonderful Anna Karina and two suitors pining over her while simentaneously planning a robbery. Still, there’s probably a lot of stuff going on under the surface that I  didn’t pick up on. While I do love his films, a lot of Godard’s work is so dense that I wonder if I need to see the film three times back to back to fully appreciate the extent of the message that’s he’s trying to get across. And I haven’t even gotten to his later work. Still, like I said, it is fun, even if you can’t quite fully get into whatever point it may be trying to make (I should note this one does seem a little less dense then a lot of his other films). It’s wonderfully shot by Raoul Coutard, unsurprisingly, and Anna Karina is wonderful as ever. The famous dance scene is great, and all the fourth wall breaking is fun as shit. It’s a good 60s Godard movie, one that has been written about more eloquently and with more depth by better writers than myself. Check it out, if you haven’t already. 

Submarine (2011)

Richard Ayoade’s coming of age dramedy about the most idiotic, adolescent, disturbingly relatable teenage protagonist you can imagine. It’s… sweet. Often times cringe inducing (intentionally, I should add) but, yes, sweet. Still, there is no getting away from, the fact is that a lot of this film is watching our young Welsh protagonist, Oliver Tate, doing exceptionally stupid things, all the while thinking he is incredibly smart and cool and sophisticated, and if that sounds like your hell, this is probably not your movie. I’ve heard him compared to Adrian Mole, and, I don’t really think I can top that as a descriptor. Same obsession with sex, same pathetic lust, same delusions of being an intellectual, and same disturbing resemblance to the person who is writing this. You could accuse him of being a rip off, but Oliver  escapes that by being portrayed with a little more sympathy then Adrian, as well as the comforting implication that Oliver is going to grow up, and that he’s going to get better. This is in sharp contrast to Adrian, where half the joke is that he never really does change. It’s a portrait of an awkward, fumbling teenager trying to get his shit figured out, to put it bluntly, and it’s quite a good one. It’s also really well put together, which is a nice bonus. There’s more than a few compositions that have a Wes Anderson vibe to them, with their obsession with symmetry and complementary colours. It doesn’t hurt that it is shot in an absolutely gorgeous part of Wales either. Overall, it’s pretty good, especially for a first feature, and clearly has had a tonne of effort put into its construction, even if can occasionally get a little precious at times. Worth checking out at least once, if you enjoy screaming at fictional characters to “not do that you stupid f***ing idiot”. 

The Help (2011)

2011’s 60s race drama that is one of the more common films to be referred to as “problematic”. Now, ignoring that that is kind a stupid turn of phrase if you stop and think about it for a second or two, The Help is problematic. It can be argued that the film perpetuates a “white saviour” narrative, amongst other issues. However, I am a white dude, who has never been to uni or really studied race relations, and as such, don’t really feel equipped to cover them in any meaningful way. I invite you to google them. So instead, what I’m going to focus on is the one thing that makes it worth sitting through the 140 odd minutes of this film. And that is two people.

Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer. 

These two give absolutely wonderful performances that pull this desperately simple, one sided morality tale thing to being heart breaking, funny and at times, genuinely gripping. They’re the most interesting characters in the movie, and they make the whole thing worthwhile. So, on that basis, I recommend the film. 

Now everything else: well, it’s a bit… mixed.

Most of the performances are fine, if not terribly great. Emma Stone is upsettingly forgettable, projecting none of the charm or enthusiasm that she’s done so well in other roles, though her material doesn’t really give her a lot to work with. Bryce Dallas Howard is very easy to hate, which is the point, so I guess that counts as a success. Everyone else is alright, like I said. None of it’s really their fault, it’s just that the script that they have is so 1 dimensional. The script never really examines what makes any of these characters tick, why they think the way they do,just kind of a “these are the bad guys, these are the good guys” mentality. The only depth comes from, as I previously stated, Spencer and Davis’s characters, who are in the fortunate position of being both incredibly talented performers and also the most sympathetic characters in the movie. 

So, in summary, it’s decent. It has many flaws, but based on those two wonderful performances, it’s worth seeing.

Film Reviews/Rambles For the Week 23rd to 29th of January, 2017

As promised, if not a tad late. More coming soon.  Apologies for any grammatical errors. Also in case the title did not clue you in these are rambly as hell. Enjoy.

Stroszek (1977)

Werner Herzog’s depressing and very good story of a group of essentially nice people who leave their terrible lives in Germany to go and live in America, under the false impression that life is better on the other side of the pond. Like I said, it’s very good. For one thing, all of the main cast is great. Bruno S. (whose own experiences serve as a basis for many parts of the script) gives a great performance as the title character, an honest but disadvantaged man who the world has done nothing but screw over. Eva Mattes is also really good, playing a prostitute, who after being abused by her pimp, leaves with Strozek for America. Clemen Shceitz is also quite good, as a slightly crazy but essentially good natured old man. While his character doesn’t really receive nearly as much screen time as the other members of trio, his performance is still interesting enough to leave a lasting impression. Like may of his other works, this film is fairly nihilistic. The general theme K got from it was his “bad things happen to good people” and “society always screws over the less fortunate”. Which are both really interesting themes, and they’re executed incredibly well here. The film contains some scenes of terrible cruelty, and it’s often greatly upsetting. Despite all that though, it’s incredibly compelling. It’s not hard to get invested in the characters, and if this kind of socially aware drama is your thing like it is mine, you’ll find yourself sucked right into this tragic tale.

Also, because I couldn’t fit these points into the main body:

  • The music is really wonderful.
  • Though it’s not revolutionary in the way it’s shot or anything, Herzog’s use of location shooting makes it very pretty to look at, in its own desolate sort of way.

Jackie (2016)

Biopic about Jackie Kennedy in the days after her husband’s assassination, here played by Natalie Portman, in what would seem to be a transparent attempt to get her an Oscar, but ends up being so much more when that. 

First, to get it out of the way: Portman is phenomenal. She perfectly embodies Kennedy’s loss, her grief and anger, her feelings of hopelessness, but also her strength and her determination in the face of terrible tragedy. About the shortest and highest praise that I can give her is that you never feel like you’re watching Natalie Portman playing Jackie Kennedy. You feel like you’re watching Jackie Kennedy. This rather incredible feat of acting is made more incredible by Portman not really looking all that much like her subject. 

The rest of the cast is also great. Peter Sarsgaard as Robert Kennedy is excellent, conveying his character’s grief and frustration excellently in a relatively limited amount of screen time, and John Hurt (RIP) playing a priest in whom Jackie confides is also excellent (but since when is John Hurt not?. Greta Gerwig and Billy Crudup, as Nancy Tuckerman and “The Journalist” respectively,  also both leave big (positive) impressions with fairly small parts.

Now, I’ve made this sound like just a particularly well acted biopic. That is a falsehood. Everything in this film is excellent. First up, the music. The score was composed by Mica Levi, who also did the score for Under the Skin, and based on what little I’ve heard of that soundtrack (obligatory “I’m getting to it!”), this is very similar in tone. At times, the score can make the mood feel almost horrific, with its ethereal strings making the already intense drama almost hard to watch as it pushes you right to the edge of your seat. Thankfully, the OST doesn’t always keep you in quite that much suspense, with some very nice piano compositions lending the particular scenes that they accompany a mournful, reflective mood.

Also brilliant: the structure! The structure of this film is what really made it for me. Moments of time crash and fall over each other in Jackie’s mind, replaying and fading into each other as she tries to make sense of her situation. Not only does it add to the film as the study of a broken mind, but it also means that the film keeps you on your toes, keeping you moving from one moment to the next and then back again before things start to get stale. 

It’s also wonderfully directed by Pablo Larrain, who shoots the whole thing on film, occasionally cutting in actual archive footage, seamlessly I might add, adding to the realism. Often, he frames the characters in close ups, adding a sense of intimacy that invests you further into what’s going on onscreen.

Frankly, the film is kind of miraculous. Pretty much nothing ever seems to go wrong, and everyone is working at top form, and as always, there’s a lot I haven’t touched on. This is one of the best of the year and well worth checking out. 

Duck Amuck (1953)

Classic Warner Bros. short with a surrealist bent. Pretty great honestly. Breaks down not only the fourth wall, but the world of the film itself. Daffy Duck screaming at his creator to animate him properly is not only absurd, but also really funny. One of the most celebrated of all the Warner shorts, and with good reason. 
I, Daniel Blake (2016)

Ken Loach’s latest, showcasing the trials and tribulations of good, working class people at the hands of the state. As I understand it, this is not exactly a new theme for him. But if he’s this good at it, I say keep going. This is an excellent film, but it’s also a pretty harrowing one. It kind of amounts to watching these lovely people being undermined by a hopeless bureaucracy that is supposedly there to help them. It’s filmed in a very barebones style, mostly unshowy mid shots, with some occasional wide and close-ups. This stripped back approach allows you to focus on the emotions of the film, which consist mostly of:

  • Righteous anger
  • Crushing sadness
  • Occasional hope

And those very powerful feelings that are baked into the screenplay are heightened further still by the two leads, Daniel Johns and Hayley Squires, who are both incredibly sympathetic and very believable. Everyone else is great in the movie, including the child actors, but those two particularly stand out.

Suffice to say this is an incredibly raw film, and one that, even a couple of days after seeing it, is still in the process of breaking my heart. Well worth seeing, but be warned, you’re going to feel the feels.