Thursday, 29 November 2012

Amour - Michael Haneke (2012)

  1. Amour is a really miserable way to spend a couple of hours, brought to you by Viennese dungeon-master Michael Haneke.
  2. Peter Bradshaw loves Haneke. Philip French loves Haneke. Dave Calhoun loves Haneke. But it's ok for you not to love Michael Haneke. In fact, it's quite reasonable to regard Michael Haneke as a kind of large-scale sadist who gets his kicks from making his audiences uncomfortable.
  3. Of course, there's nothing wrong with sadism, or indeed masochism, if that's what makes your clock tick. But you do sort of have to be in the mood. And if you happen not to be it's totally not your fault.
  4. It's a commonplace mistake to assume an association between the bleak and the meaningful. Some true things are bleak: for instance, we are all going to die, and a lot of us are going to have to get old first. But not all bleak things are true. In fact some things are made bleak deliberately and artificially - like films about old people getting on and off the toilet and refusing to be spoonfed apple sauce in the hope that their partner will just let them die.
  5. Haneke achieves his stated aim of discomfiting the audience in at least three ways.  The first is visual. He's always shooting down corridors or through doorways. Characters negotiate spaces awkwardly, or silently contest the spaces between each other, or between us and them. Apart from the very first (rather pretentious) shot of the auditorium, all the action of Amour takes place within the confines of the couple's flat. We, the viewers, are the intruders. Haneke never lets you forget that you're nothing but a filthy little voyeur who likes to watch an old lady being given a rough sponge bath, and would really prefer it if her nurse would only get out of the way so you could see everything.
  6. The second technique he uses is to deny either his characters or their stories the coherence that Hollywood has taught us to expect. So, for instance, a daughter might suddenly start to sexually molest her mother. Or an old man caring for his terminally ill wife might suddenly slap her. 'We are all capable of anything under the right circumstances' says Haneke, and being Austrian, well he might. In this film, as in Cache or The White Ribbon, the ending is ambiguous. You are denied satisfaction. And that's all you deserve, because you're a nasty little bourgeois shit, who wants things to turn out nice every time.
  7. The third method he uses to make all those awful perverts in the audience writhe in agony is showing them pictures of people doing horrible things to each other. Haneke's films are punctuated by violence, but the violence is always shot in such a way as to seem commonplace. The camera doesn't move. The violent event is always sudden, bland and narratively dysfunctional. Haneke claims this is a means of denying violence its status as pop confection. The absence of dynamism produces impassivity, it makes you feel as though you're just sitting there watching - which of course you are. His fixed shot is a finger pointed at the viewer's own appetite for the pain of others. Because, don't forget, you're nothing but a filthy, voyeursitic, bourgeois sadist pervert. SAY IT!
  8. So why this need to punish the audience, who, after all, were only looking for a good time? What have we done to deserve this? Well apparently it was all our fault for watching Top Gun.  Haneke claims that his films are a reaction to mainstream cinema, with its attempt to manipulate the view into trite sentiments and moral conclusions. He has memorably said he wants to 'rape the viewer into independence' which is a totally weird thing to think you could do. You don't have to make people miserable to make them think. You certainly don't have to rape them. David Lynch manages to confound his audiences expectations, whilst also introducing some light and shade into his films. Kubrick's worldview was bleak, but he knew how to make you feel more than one thing.
  9. So Haneke sets out to trap us, but ironically he thinks he's doing it in order to set us free.* Maybe he's not unaware of this paradox. Consider how, in this film, an act of smothering might also be a release.
  10. Of course, the real paradox here is that the people who watch Haneke's films aren't the same people who watch Top Gun and swallow it whole. He's actually offering a peculiar product for a very rarified form of cinema-goer. The kind that feels bad about all the times they willingly consented to the charms of Hollywood. In a way, the film's title is a nasty joke at the expense of our expectations of film - we reach for the lolly, and instead we get the lash. Watching this movie is a kind of a punishment, but it's the kind of punishment you pay for. And there is nothing  more wholesome about that than any other kind of cinema.
*In fact Haneke is only half Austrian. But still.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Dredd 3D - Pete Travis (2012)

  1. Dredd 3D is the second feature to be based on Judge Dredd, a comic book character from the British sci-fi weekly 2000AD.
  2. Don't worry, it's much better than the Sylvester Stallone turkey, which, ok, didn't set the bar terribly high.
  3. This film was put together with a budget of around $50 million. That sounds like a lot of money, but compare it with Prometheus's budget of $130 million or Avatar's of $237 million and you can see that, although not quite made on a shoe-string, this is toward the lower end of the scale for a sci-fi action movie on general release. Incidentally, the absolute winner of bang-for-buck sci-fi has to be Moon, which meets the highest standards of excellence and cost a mere $5 million to make. 
  4. A lot of this film was shot live, rather than created with CGI and this occasionally gives the set-pieces a  lazer-quest-with-live-ammo feel. It's probably occurred to you that CGI is actually the enemy of sci-fi  - because it prevents either the director, or the audience, from having to use their imagination - practically the whole reason anyone is in the cinema in the first place.*
  5. What the Grudd? Dredd never wields his daystick, there also aren't enough robots in Megacity One and Dredd's Lawmaster bike doesn't have either foot-wide tires or the long Harley-type handle bars and forks which are its identifying features.  A lot of 2000AD readers (or Squaxx dek Thargo as they like to be known) won't like this. But then they're not a hugely influential demographic, from a cultural POV.
  6. Hmm that actress playing the brutal matriarch Ma-Ma looks familiar, and it's not just because she bears a passing resemblance to Kiera Knightley if only Kiera Knightley were somehow able to act. She is of course Lena Headey who plays the brutal matriarch Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones. And who's that playing the ruthless, intelligent thug, Kay, but Wood Harris who plays the ruthless, intelligent thug Avon Barksdale in The Wire. You may also recognise the plot, which is a combination of the films Training Day and The Raid. None of this really matters during the action sequences which seem to have come fully-formed from the mind of a delirious psychopath having just the best day ever.
  7. The idea for Slo-Mo, a drug which slows one's experience of time to 1/60 speed, was allegedly inspired by watching nature documentaries in HD. Isn't it a cool thought that, in a world where people have run out of space, a hallucinogen that could slow down time would become massively popular? If you'd like to reproduce the effects of Slo-Mo in real life your best bet is probably yage or just some good old lysergic acid diethylamide.
  8. The film was written by Alex Garland who wrote The Beach. I know, you haven't been this excited since All Saints reformed. But Garland hasn't just been taking shamanistic drugs and watching box sets for the last 15 years: he also wrote 28 Days Later, and Sunshine. And somehow managed to get himself paid one million pounds sterling to write a script for a Halo film that has so far never been made. Nice work if you can get it.
  9. Some people think that since Dredd was conceived in Britain during the late 70s at a time of civil unrest and widespread police brutality the character must be a satirical commentary on those two things. But the writers of Dredd bring too much naked relish to his behaviour for that. Is it possible that the kind of bearded, real-ale drinking Hawkwind fans who write 2000AD are also exactly the kind of people who'd happily kick to death kids who listen to grime out loud on their mobiles? Why do you think shy sci-fi people love sci-fi? That's right, it's because they find the present intolerable.
  10. Olivia Thirlby puts in a great and sensitive performance as Judge Cassandra Anderson. This is no mean feat. In the comics she always seemed like she'd been designed by a 15 year old pervert. A female authority figure whose working clothes consist of a roll of black cling film and a zip and who, at any given moment, knows exactly what you're thinking.
*see also the difference between Star Wars and Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith. Prometheus and Alien. Or in fact Prometheus and virtually any other film that didn't go straight to DVD.

    Tuesday, 28 August 2012

    The Dark Knight Rises - Christopher Nolan (2012)

    1. The Dark Knight Rises is the latest in the DC Comics franchise from Hollywood’s most successful idiot, Christopher Nolan. 
    2. Christopher Nolan really wants to make intelligent films, but he keeps making complicated films. It’s hard to know whether Nolan himself loses any sleep over the shortfall. He’s keen to associate himself with noir, a genre which he’s called maze-like. And this is very telling. Apart from things like low lighting, a preponderance of flashbacks, femme fatales and bruised male protagonists the defining feature of noir is an air of unresolved mystery. A maze isn’t really a mystery. There is only one entrance and one exit and Nolan’s films are prosaic in just the same way. Now you are lost in the maze. Here is the exit to the maze. 
    3. If the prison from which the child Bane emerged was so awful, how come they’ve got a TV? How are they getting reception down there? Do they have cable? Ok, it’s quite a small TV but it’s just that, from the description Alfred gave, it sounded like a kind of living hell, rather than slightly better than a Spanish youth hostel. 
    4. Films like Memento, The Prestige or Inception substitute the explanation of an idea for plot. In fact, it sometimes seems like Nolan’s goal as a filmmaker is to explain any idea that’s put in front of him as earnestly and humourlessly as possible, like he’s got a vendetta against ideas, like they make him feel bad in way he can’t express. And it’s weird because often the ideas he’s got it in for aren’t that well thought out, or really the kind of ideas that you'd think it was worth spending millions of dollars to get a scowling Christian Bale to stamp the life out of.
    5. Nolan’s big action sequences are shot for real. He’ll really blow the wings off a plane, or lob a crane over the edge of a motorway, or build a bat bike that can leap three double decker buses. If you watch this interview you’ll notice that he regards the fact that studios give him money to enact his stunts with the reverence of a man in the presence of a mystery he really cannot understand. 
    6. The Keysi Fighting Method, the martial art used by Bale’s Batman, was made up by two blokes in Spain. You’re probably wondering if men who make up their own martial arts are cool guys who hang around by their motorbikes with their muscly arms crossed. You are in for a treat
    7. Oh no! Michael Caine is trapped a dream in which he’s playing Michael Caine doing an impression of Michael Caine doing an impression of Michael Caine!
    8. Most of the mysteries in Nolan’s films are binary, the equivalent of asking a child which hand the sweetie is in. Is the top spinning, or is not spinning? Is the magician in the box, or not in the box? Is the bomb in this truck or the other truck? But why is the bomb in either? If Bane is so fiendishly clever, why didn’t he keep the bomb somewhere else? This never occurs to Bane, because it never ever occurs to Christopher Nolan.
    9. The Gotham Stock Exchange is actually the frontage of the Masonic Temple in Covent Garden. Kind of wondering if they let him use it because he's a mason. Or maybe Nolan secretly believes that the masons are giving him the money to keep making films. 
    10. After sitting through three hours of that, you probably felt like watching Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman. It’s way better than this. Jack Nicholson is fantastic, and you get to watch Kim Basinger defining the phrase ‘in her prime’.

    Tuesday, 19 June 2012

    Prometheus - Ridley Scott (2012)

      1. Prometheus is a complexly bad film by Ridley Scott.
      2. If you only saw it once you might have had the sense that it was good for the first hour, and collapsed later on. In fact, this was an illusion produced by your own excitement taking about an hour to wear off. A second viewing reveals that it’s pretty bad the whole way through.
      3. One of the problems with Prometheus is that it’s an Alien prequel. Alien is just the best horror film ever made that happens to be set on an alien planet. It knows what it’s about, it’s about scaring you and it uses every jaded, dirty trick it can lay its hands on to do so. Prometheus wants to be a sci-fi film in the spirit of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. You can tell from the use of Chopin, the early exterior shot ofthe spaceship moving silently across the vastness of space, the hugely overwrought mythological overtones and the fact it’s called Prometheus.
      4. You’ve probably spent the time since you realised a what a bad film it was hoping that Ridley Scott was drunk when he made it, because he’s about to revisit Blade Runner, and wouldn’t it be awful if he fucked that up too?
      5. For instance why would anyone who wasn’t totally bladdered at the time cast Guy Pearce to play the world’s oldest man. Why not cast Anthony Hopkins, Peter O’Toole, or just anyone slightly old? Why not cast my Dad? He would have been way more believable.
      6. Why do the prehistoric star maps show the Engineers co-existing with humans? And if, as the ship’s captain suggests, the planet is a military facility, why have the Engineers been encouraging prehistoric humans to draw helpful maps of how to get there? There’s no point thinking deeply about it, or going onto an internet forum to discuss it, it’s not a mystery, it just makes no sense.
      7. There are two good ideas which were squandered in the film. One is the thought ‘what if we were the aliens?’, uninvited, unwelcome guests on a planet that we were never meant to find. The other is, what if life itself were a biological weapon?
      8. Because that’s what the contents of the vases seems to be, a formula for a selfish gene, equipped with a complete horrorshow of a survival instinct, that on contact with air  begins spontaneously to assume the most aggressive form possible to ensure its survival.
      9. F-boner continues a good run, as the retentive, tight-buttocked android, David. His best scene is another Kubrick rip-off, playing basketball indoors, while the humans are in hypersleep – like Jack Nicholson throwing his baseball in the abandoned hotel. But he also has some shockers – grinning into the star map for instance. And even though dismembered androids who keep talking while vomiting a weird milky fluid are the mascots of the Alien films, the short exchange about mankind's insatiable curiosity that ends with Dr. Shaw apologising for zipping his decapitated head into a bowling-ball bag is pure turkey. It's a good thing that in space no-one can hear you snort with with derision.
      10. So given that David indirectly impregnated Dr. Shaw out of envy, or spite, with the proto-squid. And the proto-squid then impregnated the surviving Engineer with the Alien, that would make Dr. Shaw, who we are told earlier on is barren, the progenitor of the Alien. A kind of Leda and the Swan-type scenario. Or maybe David is the holy ghost and she’s the Virgin Mary. Or maybe since the proto-squid is ripped from her she's a female Adam, giving birth to an Alien Eve. Or maybe Weyland is the father, David is the son and oh look I suddenly don't care any more.

        Friday, 1 June 2012

        Moonrise Kingdom - Wes Anderson (2012)

        1. Moonrise Kingdom is a film by Wes Anderson that you may want not to like, but will probably find impossible not to like.
        2. Anderson is turning into a obsessional stylist along the lines of Pedro Almodovar. His conventions are thematic, as well as visual, but his visual tics include the tracking shot through a model-like building, or actual model of a building. The inventory-taking diagrammatic layout shot. The artfully colour-coordinated codacrome fashion shoot shot. The symmetrical portrait with matching background shot (often in pairs). The slow-mo walking shot. The super long mise-en-scene in a single take. They are all here. In fact, if you like Wes Anderson as much as Wes Anderson does, you'll love this.
        3. There's something utterly mad and childish about wanting to get all of your favourite things into every film you make. It's like a boyscout who's proud of his badges. Or a little sensitive girl who wants to show you her careful selection of books and records.
        4. In this very entertaining video Bill Murray notes that Anderson tends to wear his trousers short, so everyone in this film also wears their trousers short and ends up looking like 'the kind of person you might want to mug'. You probably also noticed that the film is dedicated to Anderson's girlfriend, the writer Juman Malouf. And the film, in its earnestness, awkward showiness and nested detail, is exactly the kind of gift that a character in a Wes Anderson film would give their girlfriend.
        5. David Lynch wants to show you what's inside his head. But he's the kind of unapologetic weirdo that doesn't really care what you think:  he's blown his nose and wants you to look at the handkerchief. Anderson wants to show you what's in his head, but he also wants you to like it and appreciate that it's cool. And there's something annoying about this. Neediness of this kind is the opposite of cool - it's awkward. But oh, awkwardness is very Wes Anderson.
        6. If you'd like to experience the feeling of being in a Wes Anderson film in your own life, find a colleague or family member. Begin a conversation, but hold his or her gaze for way longer than is necessary or comfortable. Now look away. Now look back and thoughtfully offer them an ashtray, a carrot stick or a sandwich with the crusts cut off.
        7. Look at Bruce Willis, he thinks he's acting like an intelligent person acting like a stupid person. Ha ha ha.
        8. If you were a paedophile, wouldn't it be funny to get two 12 year olds to grope each other, film it and then show the film to millions of people? 
        9. Of course, the 10 Point Review is not suggesting that Wes Anderson is a paedophile, but only that, if he were, he'd be the paedophile all other paedophiles wanted to be. In fact one of the things that makes Wes Anderson's films so fundamentally Wes Anderson is their shyness around all matters sexual. (Apart from that bit in The Darjeeling Limited where Adrien Brodie fingers Amara Karan on a train which feels massively overdone and compensatory). Adult relationships in his films are always complex and sad, and there is a huge yearning to be actually pre-sexual. A non-sexual sexual impulse. Maybe what you're realising is that Wes Anderson is a strange guy. Perhaps you're even starting to think it's sort of wonderful that he's allowed to make films with big stars in them, that loads of people go to see.
        10. Bill Murray isn't an actor, he's the man with the world's most sympathetic face. Bill realised years ago that he didn't have to do anything to make people warm to him, in fact they warmed to him especially when he didn't do anything. His face reaches new levels of immobility in this film, like a hugely loveable sofa cushion, from a childhood rec room, with the stuffing removed.

        Thursday, 26 April 2012

        The Cabin in the Woods - Drew Goddard (2011)

        1. The Cabin in the Woods is a brilliantly entertaining movie about horror directed by Drew Goddard, one of the writers of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and produced by Joss Whedon.
        2. The film opens in a government facility: two weary bureaucrats (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) bellyache about their home life as they prepare for a mysterious event. At this point you probably felt like you were watching a high-quality HBO comedy-drama. That's because Whitford and Jenkins have been in every TV show you've ever liked, from Six Feet Under to Ally McBeal. There is something immensely reassuring about their presence. Remember that word 'reassuring'.
        3. The poster shows the cabin as a Rubik's cube. It's a puzzle for genre fans and spotting the references is part of the fun. So, the teenagers from A Nightmare on Elm Street get in the RV from The Hills Have Eyes and drive to the house from Night of the Living Dead through the forest from The Shining and encounter the zombies from Dawn of the Dead. And hey, where have I seen that merman before?
        4. The horror genre depends on fear of the unknown. Now, you're going to say, 'no, it depends on the fear of death.' But then look you're caught in this entertaining loop, do we fear death because it's unknown, or do we fear the unknown because it reminds us of death? Have fun with that one.
        5. You may have noticed that what you learnt about the nature of events at the cabin short-circuited your capacity for the fear of the unknown. You knew exactly what was controlling those events, from the beginning of the film. But by then you'd also probably understood that it wasn't really a horror film. Unless you write for the Guardian film blog, in which case you somehow managed to hopelessly miss the point.  None of this is a secret, after all the film's title is a parody of a horror title. 
        6. There's something nerdy going on here. The geeky idea from Douglas Adams via Terry Pratchett (and, yes, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) is what if the magical required administration? And what if its administration was handled with a level of competence comparable to all other forms of human affairs? Wouldn't that be weird?
        7. Conspiracy theories are paradoxically reassuring. The thought of powerful forces at work behind the scenes, is way more comforting, more patrician and more American, than the idea of no powerful forces at work behind the scenes. 
        8. Most horror films take a kind of fear and make it manifest. So you might say that The Shining is 'about' the murderous impulses contained within every family, Drag Me To Hell could be 'about' bulimia, Black Swan the psychic collapse of a neurotic type-A personality. This film has a vending machine filled with fear of every flavour. That's because it's a film 'about' fear itself.
        9. Jenkins and Whitford's characters establish a betting floor in the facility. The thing that, according to all the computer models never happens, happens. Those reassuring people that you thought had it under control turned out not to have it so under control. Sound familiar at all?
        10. Fear is a product of culture, so were that culture to collapse, all of those familiar things you were afraid of simply would not exist any more. Well might we look at the ghosts and buzz-saw wielding zombies with something approaching wistfulness. They are the known unknowns, and they are so much more appetising than the unknown unknowns which lie just down the road. It might even be that they were cultural artefacts designed to distract us from the genuinely terrifying spectres of environmental disaster and global economic collapse that would freak the entire population the hell out, if only we stopped eating the pizza of pop culture for long enough to think about them.

        Friday, 9 March 2012

        Rampart - Oren Moverman (2012)

        1. Rampart is an astonishingly good film starring Woody Harrelson, directed by Oren Moverman. The screenplay is by Moverman and James Ellroy, but much of the dialogue is ad-libbed and Harrelson is so totally on-point he should probably get a credit too.
        2. Los Angeles, 1998. The city has recovered from the riots only to be gripped by a massive police corruption scandal involving the anti-gang CRASH unit (Community Resource Against Street Hoodlums. Yep, really) based on Rampart Boulevard. Some 70 members of the unit are implicated in crimes ranging from armed robbery to the theft of huge amounts of cocaine from police storage. Beating suspects is SOP. Basically the group has turned into the city’s baddest gang, eg: its officers wear tattoos of a skull in a cowboy hat surrounded by poker cards showing aces and eights, ‘the dead man’s hand.’ They award trophies to each other for shooting suspects, in a bar in Echo Park.
        3. It’s all relevant because the story centres on Dave ‘Date Rape’ Brown, a deeply corrupt LAPD cop. Brown is a Vietnam vet who regards the police presence in LA as a military occupation. He’s also the most dangerous sort of psychopath, the kind that believes that he’s the last good guy standing. There’s a sense in which he is the rampart of the title, betrayed, attacked from all angles, using every ounce of his ingenuity to hang on.
        4. And this is just one of the reasons that we sort of admire him. You probably noticed that one of the film's dedicatees is C. G. Jung, and perhaps the satisifaction we get from watching Brown taking care of business comes from mainlining some very shadowy archetype behaviour.
        5. Harrelson is in every scene and he’s insanely good. Sinewy as hell, chain-smoking, charming and bent on survival. He even manages to show us Brown’s vanity – his consciousness, when he’s being likeable of his own likeability. Also his terrible loneliness, which is the loneliness of anyone who tries to live life their own way.
        6. There are some dangerous ideas in this film. One of the hardest to swallow is that women love a murderer. Dave Brown earned his moniker for the killing of a serial date rapist, and of all the women who he sleeps with in this film there isn’t one that doesn’t know it.
        7. There are so many great lines: ‘I’m not a racist, I hate all people equally’, ‘you are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen in this bar’ and not forgetting ‘I like to suck cock! So sue me!’
        8. Brown has a polygamous relationship with two sisters and a daughter with each of them. It’s a testament to the strength of his will that he can hold a situation like this in place, and a bellwether sign that his will is giving out that he can’t keep it together. He is the creator of his own morality, a father figure. But the film's final scene offers us the hope (and by then it is a hope) that although he may be losing his grip, he won't let go.
        9. Even Ice Cube turns in an excellent performance. There’s a rightness in his appearing here, for fans of his album, The Predator, he represents the spirit of that particular place and time.
        10. It's hard to know how Time Out expect people to take their film reviews seriously when they reference Kill List, a great film, but one that resembles this film not at all, and not Werner Herzog's Bad Lieutenant. Or Aguirre Wrath of God. Or really any Werner Herzog at all. Also has anyone noticed the way that Time Out's reviews so often contain a 'really too many to mention here'-type phrase? Why not sit there with your pencil and try a bit harder yeah?