Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Moneyball - Bennett Miller (2011)

  1.  Moneyball is a surprisingly engaging film about using statistical analysis, or sabermetrics, to assemble a successful baseball team.
  2. But it’s ok, it was written by Aaron Sorkin who also did The Social Network, the best film about a court case about a website that you are ever likely to see, and it was directed by Bennett Miller, whose last film was Capote.
  3. You have to wonder whether Miller even likes baseball. His depiction of it is bleak – the players are exploited, the scouts are liver-spotted charlatans, the owners are shark-eyed capitalists. Pitt’s character, Billy Beane, is unable to even watch his team play, because he’s terrified he’ll jinx their game, so the game itself features hardly at all. Ok, there are a few graphs and some montages, but that’s more or less it. In fact, Miller seems to have ended up making a sort of anti-sports movie, which is probably good thing, given that the baseball is up there with cricket and kabbadi in the wilful tedium stakes.
  4. Miller took over from Steven Soderberg, who wanted to turn it into one his of his multiple storyline films, following the car journeys of 20,000 individual Oakland As fans on their way to the stadium.
  5. You suspect Brad Pitt is the man who made this film happen, since he’s been allowed to play his favourite version of Brad Pitt. In this sense the film is of a piece with The Ides of March, and The Rum Diary. A major star shooting an eccentric, otherwise virtually un-financeable script. You might see this as A-list males bankrolling their own B-movies. But even if these films aren’t as good as they’re making out, at least they’re way more interesting than studio pictures cobbled together from green paper, CGI and market research.
  6. Aaron Sorkin is a huge Freudian. His stories are all about characters processing trauma. So Zuckerberg becomes the geek who can't relate who creates the ultimate system for mapping social relationships. Lt. Kaffee (Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men, which, yes Sorkin also wrote when he was about 15) is the lawyer who can't stand up in court because he’s so intimidated by his memory of his father, the star court lawyer, and ends up having to face down the ultimate father figure: a bristling Jack Nicholson. And here Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), the baseball player who was overrated by scouts as a young man, brings down the temple of subjective baseball analysis with sabermetrics.
  7. It's a great way of writing satisfying films, but it’s sort of misleading, because it makes it look like a situation has arisen in order that the character can process their stuff. This is an illusion, brought about by the fact that Sorkin has worked backward from the event to the trauma, when in real life the trauma happens first, and there probably isn't any kind of causal relationship anyway. 
  8. Sorkin used to like to freebase cocaine. He said ‘I had found a drug I absolutely love and that gave me a real break from a certain nervous tension that I kind of carry with me moment to moment.’ In a Sorkin film Sorkin would be a writer who learns to process his dissatisfaction with real life by writing screenplays where the dialogue is always perfectly polished and everyone has a sharp comeback ready. Miller allows his actors to hesitate, talk over one another and repeat lines which gives all the smart stuff the patina of realism. It works surprisingly well, even if you can't quite believe that people who work in baseball are anything like this entertaining.
  9. You’ll notice that Beane has a load of pictures of The Clash on the wall in his office. These are from the single date the Clash played at the Oakland  in 1982, supporting the Who - you can tell because Strummer has his 80s wide Mohican going – like in the Rock the Casbah video.
  10. Aaron Sorkin could probably write a script about eastern mysticism, field theory and kabbadi and it might even be interesting, so long as they didn't let Steven Soderberg direct it.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Margaret - Kenneth Lonergan (2011)

  1. Margaret is a flawed, overloaded, but moving film by Kenneth Lonergan.
  2. Who's Kenneth Lonergan? Well, he wrote Analyze This and, yeah, ok, The Gangs of New York. But wait, Margaret is really good, and at no point do gangs of men march on set, armed with a range of cutlery, and introduce themselves. If you're wondering what Lonergan looks like, he plays Anna Paquin's screenwriter dad here.
  3. Don’t Matt Damon and Anna Paquin look terrific? It’s not CGI, it’s just that this movie has been trapped in post-production since 2006. Lonergan shot hundreds of hours of footage but couldn’t arrive at a cut he could live with. Fox Searchlight, to their credit, wouldn’t release the film without his approval – but they did sue him, hard, for not getting his shit together. This explains why, despite having some major stars in it, there was zero publicity, and you can only see it in about two London cinemas.
  4. What you’re watching is a cut by Martin Scorsese, signed off by Lonergan. Things have to get pretty bad before people start saying ‘let’s get Scorsese to do this, at least he’s not such a perfectionist.’
  5. It’s a film about sympathy, and how much we can really be expected to feel for other people.
  6. All modern life depends on apathy. For instance, it’s only possible to inhabit a city like New York or London because, beyond your family and closest acquaintance, you don’t really care what happens to the human beings around you. Imagine the emotional ‘load’ of a single London tube carriage: all the hopes, dreams and fears of all those people sitting in close proximity to you. Compare that with your own deafening sense of isolation when sitting on the tube. The city has turned you into a psychopath. Why, you could probably watch someone being horribly maimed in a traffic accident and have forgotten about it by lunchtime.
  7. Or could you? Are there certain kinds of tragedy that would force you into deep sympathetic contact with the strangers around you. And how would that be? Isn't there something greedy-seeming and, ironically, unsympathetic, about trying to participate in someone else’s emotional life without their permission? And how do we choose who we feel for and who we don’t? These are just a few of the pleasantly un-worked-out questions that the film raises.
  8. There is no one in this film called Margaret – the title comes from a poem, Spring and Fall, by Gerard Manley Hopkins. It’s about a little girl crying for the dead leaves in Autumn. Hopkins basically explains to her that she’s crying for her future self who’s bound to end up so weighed down with human misery that things like dead leaves just won’t even touch the sides. Just one good reason for never leaving your child alone with a Jesuit.
  9. You probably noticed that, in the scene in which Joan and Lisa sit down in the New York Opera House, the shot is an extension of your own view of the cinema’s seating. It’s a paradox that if you want to care about people you have to go to the opera. Or the cinema. Another paradox is that the people invested with responsibility for the public expression of emotion are actors, the most narcissistic, emotionally self-involved people there are.
  10. The experience which Lisa is having at the end of the film is catharsis, as described by Aristotle. The drawing out of emotion elicited by drama. The spooky thing is that what she’s watching is Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann, which has nothing to do with her situation whatever. Which is, realistically speaking, true of any work of art you've ever loved.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

The Rum Diary - Bruce Robinson (2011)

  1. The Rum Diary is a confused film about boozing in Puerto Rico, based on a novel by Hunter S. Thomson with a screenplay and direction from Bruce Robinson.
  2. Robinson is famous for Withnail and I, but he also made How to Get Ahead in Advertising, a poorly researched but entertaining morality tale about an ad executive (Do you mean executive or do you mean copywriter? Well how about you make up your fucking mind?) who grows a talking boil. He also wrote an autobiographical novel The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman, which the 10-Point Review can't really recommend.
  3. About half-way through this film Johnny Depp's character, Kemp, visits a ghetto where he takes a picturesque photo of a young black girl through the window of an abandoned car. This scene is meant to demonstrate that Kemp is more than a tourist, he's a serious reporter with an axe to grind. Yes, fine, but the majority of the film is about getting drunk and chasing girls on a tropical island, which is more or less the modern definition of tourism. And all the other black people in it are hostile, frightening or sexually threatening. You cannot both have your cake, and also eat your cake.
  4. In fact, if you're scared of gays and black people you'll love this. As in Withnail and I male homosexuals are menacing, but in Puerto Rico it's not just Uncle Monty who wants to bugger you, there are a load of sailors who are just dying to get right into your ass. There's also the scene in which a sweating Chenault (Amber Heard) dances with a young black man whose abs look like they've been carved from an illegally logged Amazonian hardwood while her husband (Aaron Ekchart) is forcibly restrained, powerless to intervene. You probably recognised these scenes as the expressions of sexual neurosis they patently are. If you're this worried about being forced to suck cock, no wonder you have to drink so much.
  5. Speaking of which, there's a lot of cock fighting in this film, a blood sport that's illegal on the US mainland, but not in Puerto Rico. Its inclusion, in unflinching slow-motion, along with the racism and homophobia mentioned above, as well as the boozing, drug-taking, fast cars and the edible female lead, demonstrates the film's unrepentantly retro aesthetic. This is subtly different from the reconstructed retro of, say, Mad Men, which encourages the viewer to see the 60s in a slightly patronising light ('Nice suits, but if only they'd had therapy'). It's a sort of paean to a time when life was less complicated and/because these things were allowed to pass unexamined.
  6. Bruce Robinson is a recovering alcoholic who relapsed to write this screenplay. Maybe that's what gives the movie its holiday feel: an escape from reality and its concomitant moral responsibilities. (Is it ok to have sex with prostitutes if you only do it in Puerto Rico? Just asking.)
  7. You might consider this film as a sort of prequel to Terry Gilliam's, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Depp who at 35, played the 34-year-old Thompson in Fear and Loathing, now at 48 plays the 22-year-old Thompson in The Rum Diary. Basically he's twelve years older where he should be twelve years younger. It's confusing, and all you can take from it is that Jonny Depp looks fantastic for his age.
  8. Aaron Eckhart is forging a career as what William Burroughs called 'The Ugly American'. Which is not to say that he's ugly, but that's there's something about his too-good-to-be-true jawline that means he's inevitably cast as a representative of everything that's cruel in the American dream. A few decades ago he would just have been a leading man, a la Donald Sutherland, but now he appears in order to demonstrate the vulnerability of old America, brought about by its lack sensitivity. His girlfriend is bound to cheat on him.
  9. Hopeless sentimentality is as much a feature of alcoholism as drinking alcohol. And this film has a sentimental streak about a mile wide.
  10. 'Empower the fowl', 'Your tongue is an accusatory giblet! Keep it out!', 'Can you smell that? That's the smell of bastards' - these phrases are characteristic of Hunter S. Thomson's idiosyncratic voice. Yes, well, none of them are in the book - they come from Robinson, who, let us not forget, could write a line for Uncle Monty like ' Come on lads, let's get home, the sky's beginning to bruise, night must fall and we shall be forced to camp.'

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Wuthering Heights - Andrea Arnold (2011)

  1. Wuthering Heights is a dour Andrea Arnold adaptation of Emily Brontë's classic English A'-level text.
  2. Arnold has made two excellent films: Red Road and Fish Tank. This is, if not quite a fully-fledged turkey, certainly nowhere near as good as either of them.
  3. During the 80s Arnold appeared as the foxy roller-skater, Dawn, on the children's Saturday morning show Number 73. If you've ever wondered why when anyone says 'Maidstone' you mentally append the word 'Kent' you know who to blame. If you were born around 1980 and a have a spare half hour for a disorientating dose of nostalgia click here
  4. Arnold's characters inhabit alienating spaces, they stalk across patches of wasteland or industrial estates, argue in car parks or dance in abandoned council flats. If you ever run out of petrol and find yourself trudging down the hard shoulder of a motorway, entertain yourself by imagining you're in an exciting Andrea Arnold adaptation of Rebecca.
  5. For the first hour or so of this overlong film the young Heathcliff (Solomon Glave) and Catherine (Shannon Beer) chase one another over the Pennines. No council estates here, just birds, beetles, rocks, mud, grass, rain and sky. And did I mention birds and rain and mud? And rain? After a while you may start wishing someone would introduce an episode of Rentaghost, just to leaven the mix.
  6. Unlike most adaptations this one concentrates on the childhood sections of the book, apparently to make Heathcliff's grief more poignant and believable. For Arnold cinema is the closest thing to sharing someone else's experience. Stuff like the uniquely isolating feeling of deafening wind in your ears, which no other medium could reproduce effectively. So during the extra-long first half she's trying generate sensuous memories that will tie us to Heathcliff and Cathy in the second half...
  7. ...only it doesn't quite work, and she has to keep introducing flashbacks to remind us of how the first half felt. Plus Kaya Scodelario and James Howson who play the older Heathcliff and Cathy don't either look, or seem, like the same people as their younger counterparts.
  8. In forensic science circles necrophilia is known as 'cold-cocking'.
  9. No-one in this film seems to care about getting soaked in the rain - despite the fact that keeping warm and dry must have been a life and death-type priority in 19th Century Yorkshire. Perhaps we're being invited to consider true love's elemental qualities. But you will probably spend most of the film thinking 'will someone please just shut that fucking door'.
  10. To be fair Wuthering Heights isn't an easy book to adapt, not least because the emotions it describes aren't realistic. In the novel they're smothered under layers of 19th Century story paraphernalia, framing narratives, eavesdropping, discovered texts and so on. Arnold has removed all this, she's also removed the dream sequence, and the gothic qualities of the house itself. She has removed the bathwater, but also the baby. In fact, Kate Bush's interpretation of the novel is far more faithful not just to its melodrama, but also its irony and intelligence. This film closes, not with Kate Bush, but Mumford and Sons, and so reveals its true sensibility. Like them, it proves you can strip back to the essentials and still end up sounding pretentious.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

The Ides of March - George Clooney (2011)

  1. The Ides of March is an ok political thriller directed by the actor George Clooney.
  2. It's a film about ambiguity: no one in it is quite what they seem.
  3. For instance, you might consider Clooney to be a likeable, bankable, but ultimately lightweight Hollywood star. But no, no, no, it turns out he's a director of worthy political thrillers starring fidgety actors' actors like Paul Giamatti and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
  4. George Clooney's face can sell anything, from Steven Soderbergh's Ocean franchise films, to proprietary brand coffee machines. This is a pretty weird state of affairs, and there's probably no-one who finds it weirder than George Clooney.
  5. Clooney enjoys a reputation for both intelligence and niceness. You can almost imagine him being embarrassed by the power of his face as an instrument of economic gain and this embarrassment registering as a certain wilful perversity in its deployment. It's like he's levying a kind of boredom tax on the use of his face. This, perhaps, explains why he often appears in complex, slow-moving films like Syriana, The American and Good Night, and Good Luck.
  6. You see, there was time, just after he left ER, when he might have been an action star: running around in a polo neck, shooting things, etc. Only then he started making films with Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers. Maybe it was then that he realised clever films tend to privilege dialogue and cinematography over action, and perhaps this is why all his films feel like they've had the action systematically sucked out of them. The word that comes up a lot is restrained. The discovery of the body, the final argument between Gosling and Clooney are all studiously under done in this movie. Like a not-very-intelligent person who maintains a reputation for intelligence by not saying much.
  7. Ryan Gosling is great in this film. Sadly he doesn't stamp through anyone's face, but he does do some high quality flirting. The flirting is based largely on double bluff, which is one of the film's motifs. It's neat, like the way that when you break off a piece of broccoli it looks like another tinier piece of broccoli. Actually the scenes between Gosling and Wood are the best here, but then they're also the most reminiscent of Julia Roberts' scenes with George Clooney in Ocean's Eleven.
  8. Don't worry, Evan Rachel Wood was born in 1987, so she's not actually a teenager. But she is, technically speaking, 'the devil's candy'. The idea of a sexually confident 20 year old woman, raised on a diet of MTV and hardcore porn, is the modern replacement for the sexually submissive female lead of the past hundred years. But she's not a threat, because it turns out that the price of that sexual confidence is emotional instability, an abortion and then death (oops, spoiler, sorry). BTW, are we really expected to believe that she poons Gosling because she needs $7000? And that there is no-one else at all that she could ask? Come on.
  9. The screenplay is based on a play by Beau Willimon called Farragut North. The Ides of March is, as you well know, a quotation from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, a play that is synonymous with political duplicity and betrayal. But it also refers to a date, March 15th which is not slightly relevant to this film. It's almost as though they've chosen the most famous line in Julius Caesar, because quoting Shakespeare makes you look clever. Restrained? Or just strained?
  10. Ryan Gosling appeared in the Mickey Mouse Club for two years alongside Justin Timberlake. All the face-stamping and intern-fucking in the world is not going to turn you into Jack Nicholson after that. But at least he's trying.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn - Steven Spielberg (2011)

  1. The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is the gayest movie to appear on general release since Gus Van Sant's Milk.
  2. Whether Tintin is gay is a facetious question, like whether or not Lady Macbeth has children. Outside certain obscure hentai Tintin is absolutely sexless. But the informing principle of this film, and of all Tintin stories, is gay.
  3. Tintin is a young man with a taste for 'adventure'. These 'adventures' always involve the pursuit of some species of MacGuffin, in this case, model ships. In fact the MacGuffins are functionally interchangeable, masks for a libidinal urge that leads Tintin, with clockwork regularity, to the docks. 
  4. Whenever he visits the docks Tintin is inevitably cornered by two or three heavily-built men and either chloroformed or assaulted with a phallic object like a rubber blackjack or cosh. Very often he awakes to find himself bound, and gagged. You'd think, under the circumstances, he might just avoid docks and shipyards. But oh no.
  5. When the John Williams score kicks in over the seaplane taking off from the crest of a wave you may well be aware of the sensation of your buttons being firmly pushed. This won't stopped them being pushed.
  6. What about that scene where Tintin is thrown violently around a cabin filled with sailors while Captain Haddock watches from the doorway? In fact, by that point you've probably started to think of the film as a really intense gay porno for children. But don't worry, all the sex has been substituted for 'adventure'.
  7. Georges Prosper Remi, or Hergé, gets a good deal of stick for being a sinister fascist, not just because he was a keen scout, but because during the occupation of Belgium the Tintin strip appeared in the Nazi-controlled paper, Le Soir. And it's not like the stereotyping of black people, Arabs, South Americans, Russians and Jews was limited to that period of his career either. Spielberg has had the rights to Tintin since the 80s - but he probably had to make Schindler's List first didn't he?
  8. Tintin's best friends are his toy terrier, a hairy alcoholic and two moustachioed, co-habiting bachelors. There's nothing to see here.*
  9. In modern gay argot the word for a beefy, hirsute gay man is a 'bear', the word for a correspondingly lithe, ectomorphic and hairless gay man is a 'twink' or 'chicken'.
  10. The only woman in Tintin is the opera singer Bianca Castafiore. She is a comic character, distinguished by her high-pitched voice, a female secondary sexual characteristic which all the other characters find intolerable.
*Hergé died from an HIV-related infection in 1983, but he caught it from a blood-transfusion. He remains a national hero in Belgium. 

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Contagion - Steven Soderbergh (2011)

  1. Contagion is a disaster movie by Steven Soderbergh starring every single actor in Hollywood.
  2. Jude Law suffers from a terrible illness. Its symptoms include a prosthetic overbite and a risible Australian accent. Soderbergh has a tin ear when it comes to accents. You probably remember Don Cheadle's wince-inducing 'English' accent in Ocean's Eleven and, absurdly, Terence Stamp's English accent in The Limey.
  3. Remember when Steven Soderbergh made great films like Sex, Lies and Videotape and ... well that was a pretty great film.
  4. Soderbergh directs both serious works and 'entertainments'. When he's doing his serious face  there are hundreds of characters, all given equal emphasis. He's pretty pleased with this technique because it subverts one of Hollywood's central traditions: tight narrative focalisation. It even has certain right-on political implications since most American films have one character who soaks up our time and sympathy and that person is a white American male. He fucked it up in this film though, because the Chin Han/Marion Cotillard ethnic Stockholm Syndrome storyline was just too boring for the final cut and got mulched into a humilating montage with the music dubbed over the dialogue like no one would notice.
  5. Is a disappointing disaster movie more disastrous than a good disaster movie? Feel free to entertain yourself with this paradox during the final 40 minutes of this film.
  6. There are a few decent scenes, the first occurs immediately after the death of Gwyneth Paltrow - it's the one with Matt Damon and the doctor, and it's in the trailer. There's the moment where the pathologist saws off the top of Gwyneth Paltrow's head and flaps her scalp over her eyes like a haute couture meat fringe. There's also the shot of Kate Winslett's head covered in cellophane like something from the window of a Dalston butchers.
  7. You'll notice that the 10-Point Review has not bothered to marry the names of these actors to the names of their characters, not just because the word 'character' doesn't apply here, but because the impact of these scenes depends on outraging our expectation of how long we're going to spend watching Gwyneth Paltrow die. This has a lot to do with economics - we just can't quite believe that an actress who makes $10 million a film will be bumped off in the first 10 minutes and the sense of waste we experience when she is is an attenuated version of sudden bereavement. This disease, which is really a metaphor for the world's most famous disease, Death, falls on the famous and the obscure alike. 
  8. Several actors have been miscast and then left to muddle through as best they can. Matt Damon plays a fleshy Liam Neeason. Lawrence Fishburne acquits himself well as Morgan Freeman. And Kate Winslett does a pretty good Julianne Moore.  
  9. Judging by all the gurning Jude Law seems to think that he's been cast against type as the world's least likeable man. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
  10. The world-through-the-eyes-of-a-dying-man shots are taken from Ivan's XTC, based on Tolstoy's short story, The Death of Ivan Ilych. If you'd like to spend a sobering few hours contemplating your own mortality you could watch that on a double bill with The Death of Mr Lazarescu.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Fight Club - David Fincher (1999)

  1. Fight Club is a wonderfully strange film by David Fincher, based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk. 
  2. It’s easy, in a post-Fight Club world, to imagine that the film was a simply a serviceable adaptation of a classic novel by a great American author. This is down to some A+ direction on the part of Fincher, and spot-on performances from Edward Norton, Brad Pitt and Helena Bonham Carter. In reality the novel is a flimsy mixture of school-shooter philosophy, wouldn’t-it-be-weird anecdote, plus one great ingredient that fell in by accident. Fincher made it what it is, making Palahniuk what he is in the process. 
  3. Palahniuk has described the story of the messianic figure of Tyler Durden, and his effect on the life of the nameless narrator, as ‘apostolic’ fiction. It probably also reminds you of Oscar Wilde’s rule that ‘all first novels are the author as Christ or Faust’, since Durden is both. You needn’t tell anyone that Fight Club was actually Palahniuk’s second novel, as his first Insomnia: If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home Already, never found a publisher. 
  4. Like many first novels the book is freighted with ideas that Palahniuk obviously felt were important at the time. Some of the ‘ideas’ are just lines that sound cool, and many of them contradict one another, eg: What’s the point of the ‘human sacrifice’ if it just encourages its victims to participate more totally in a system that is worth nothing? What about Tyler Durden’s vision of an agricultural society founded in the ruins of late capitalism where you will ‘wear leather clothes that will last you your whole life’? And the whole narrator-is-really-beating-himself-up thing? I mean, come on. (Oh yeah, spoiler. Soz.)
  5. The scattergun tendency of the film’s philosophy can be excused in two ways: nihilism, (ie if your goal is chaos confusion is good) and insanity (the story as the product of one man’s confused imagination).
  6. This is one of the wonderful things about cinema: that it can take an insane novel from an outsider figure like Palahniuk and expose it to millions of unsuspecting punters. In this sense the whole film is a subversive act. When Norton’s character goes looking for Durden at the end of the film, he passes two conspicuously labelled files in the Paper Street map room. One is labelled ‘Mischief’, the other ‘Misinformation’. Feel free to imagine the screenplay nestling in either.
  7. In a recent introduction to the book Palahniuk admits that the rules of fight club were a filler introduced to help bind the novel together in those places where he didn’t want to develop characters or describe action. As you may have noticed words = time in fiction. The paradox is that if you want to indicate the passage of time you need to keep stacking up the words, without it ever looking like you’re merely passing the time. The rules were what Palahniuk came up with when he ran out of Nietzsche, Buddhist philosophy, and neat one-liners like ‘I want to have your abortion’. 
  8. Some of the best lines in the film aren’t in the book. Notably ‘I haven’t been fucked like that since grade school’*. In a really delicious piece of Hollywood chicanery Fincher offered it as a substitute for ‘I want to have your abortion’, which was unacceptable to the film's producers. Needless to say, they weren’t delighted with the new line, but Fincher had forced them to agree that, if he re-shot, the replacement would on no account be cut. What. A. Dude. 
  9. You may notice that, during one of the corporate scenes, they’re talking about ‘cybernetting the office’. This is one of the few reminders that the film was made in 1999 when Google still looked like this. The other major reminder is the final scene, with the exploding skyscrapers, which would be virtually impossible to shoot post 9/11. In fact, the film is extremely prescient about the possibility of a violent reaction against western consumerist culture, although in the event it was to come from radical Islam rather than from within western culture itself. Equally, the viral nature of the fight club movement has only become more believable with the passing of time.
  10. Palahniuk claims the inspiration for the book came from going into work with a black eye and finding that no one would asked him about it. You’ve probably also wondered whether it had anything to do with the 1991 Atari game Pit Fighter

* (trans. primary school)

Friday, 21 October 2011

We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lynne Ramsey (2011)

  1. We Need to Talk About Kevin is an excellent adaptation of Lionel Shriver's unpleasant 2003 novel of the same name.
  2. You better like looking at Tilda Swinton's face because that's what you'll be doing, almost uninterruptedly, for 118 minutes. In fact, you probably won't have spent this long scrutinising another human being's facial set-up since There Will Be Blood. Swinton's face is polarising along sex lines, women love it and go on about how striking she is, while men can't really see what all the fuss is about. The facial equivalent of Ugg Boots. If you find Tilda Swinton's face a bit pointy and annoying, that's one more way in which this movie will be something of an ordeal.
  3. Speaking of faces, you've probably also noticed that John C. Reilly, who plays Franklin, has the face of dwarf.
  4. If you're bulimic, or sitophobic, you're going to love this. All food in this film is absolutely disgusting, tending to the slimy, brightly-coloured and sticky, and anyone eating does so noisily, and with the gristly eating noises turned right up into the red. This is so deliberate and sadistic that it can only suggest a point is being made about the family table being the battleground where animal appetites are domesticated. Kevin's awful table manners are just one symptom of a pathology that refuses civilisation. Wanking vigorously in front of his mother being another. (Spoiler. Whoops, sorry.)
  5. Lionel Shriver is a woman, she changed her name by deed poll from Mary Ann Shriver when she was 14. We Need to Talk About Kevin was her seventh novel and she published her first in 1986. She described it as her 'make or break book' and this may go some way to explaining its nihilistic tone and subject matter. And don't try pulling any of that dated death-of-the-author shit. Within the film the question of who made Kevin, and therefore who takes responsibility for him, is a surrogate for the question 'who made evil'? Outside the film we know who made Kevin: it was Lionel Shriver.
  6. The screenplay is by Lynne Ramsey and Rory Stewart Kinnear. Kinnear is Ramsey's partner, not the son of Roy Kinnear who last year won the Evening Standard award for best actor.
  7. Ezra Miller is superb as the adolescent Kevin. His performance owes just a little to Heath Ledger's quieter moments in The Dark Knight and a lot to Malcolm McDowell's Alex in A Clockwork Orange. The ingredients for just this kind of sociopath are sinister composure, cherry red lips, slim-hipped adolescent sexuality and some great one-liners - then you just have to look like you're having a marvellous time at those times when other characters are at their most uncomfortable.
  8. All the interior shots at Eva's house come straight from Nan Goldin. It makes you wonder whether at the pitch they just gave them the book and this Harper's Bazaar shoot and said 'like that, but without the leopards.'
  9. If you secretly fear and dislike children and you're trying to dissuade your partner from ever having any so you can devote your moneyed middle age to sex with mid-priced escorts and  golf, try inviting them to watch this film on a triple bill with Rosemary's Baby and Eraserhead.
  10. The film takes place entirely in flashback, or at least, it has no primary narrative for the flashbacks to flash-back into. The viewer's sense of where he's at is almost entirely dependent on which wig Tilda Swinton is wearing, and how much paint there is on her house. Freud characterised the subconscious as without temporal extension - so it makes sense for a film that deals acutely with trauma and the formation of subconscious to take place outside time. Neat hey?

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Warrior - Gavin O'Connor (2011)

  1. Warrior is a 140-minute-long advertisement for the mixed martial arts promotion company UFC and the associated clothing brand TapouT (sic) probably also the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority.
  2. As all sensible people agree, when a film is part-funded by a particular concern, in return for featuring a message about that concern, then it is no longer a piece of art, it has become an advertisement. Films like this include The Hangover - an unfunny screwball caper one suspects owed a great deal to the generosity of the kind of businessmen who have an interest in promoting Las Vegas as a city of moral license where the prostitutes look like Heather Graham - and Transformers which should properly be called Selling Cars to Children. If you don't share this view on product placement in films, go ask David Lynch.
  3. Warrior is an especially pernicious example of the film-as-ad genre because unlike both The Hangover and Transformers it contains many elements of an actual film - including some brilliant dialogue and excellent performances - especially from Nick Nolte and Tom Hardy. I mention dialogue rather than writing because the construction of the screenplay, the plotting element of the writing, is insane.
  4. There is a point where situations get so improbable that they almost become probable again. When the Iraq war hero who went AWOL fights his way to the championships of a international mixed martial arts tournament only to end up in the final against a physics teacher, who's just come out of retirement in order to cover the mortgage repayments on his house (which mortgage he originally took out to pay the bills associated with his second child's rare heart condition) and who has been drafted in to replace a pro fighter who has suffered a horrific jogging injury, turns out to be the Iraq vet's own estranged brother, we must assume this is what the screenwriters were going for. They even have one of the fight commentators say: 'It's unbelievable!' You have to admire their balls.
  5. The line 'hard to find a woman who can take a punch these days' is proof of the structuralist dictum that beauty is information. It contains the history of Tommy's childhood, his fighter's voice, his humour, his father's backstory and the character of his mother, all in 11 words.
  6. The step in 12-step recovery which Paddy (Nick Nolte) is trying to enact by apologising to his sons is the 9th step ('We made direct amends to such people except when to do so would injure them or others'.) The tradition which Tom Hardy and Nick Nolte routinely break by talking about their real life membership of 12-step fellowships is the 11th Tradition ('We should ever remain anonymous at the level of press, radio and film.') NA also featured largely in The Fighter a film that was both more and less realistic than this one.
  7. The extraordinarily overdeveloped muscles which make Hardy look like he's carrying a backpack full of marrows under his sweatshirt are his trapezius and rhombodeus major. It's ok to find them weird and gross.
  8. One of the other ways that you can tell this is an advert is that it has no bad guys. All of the characters, even the 'bad' ones like Tommy or Paddy, are victims of circumstance: the economy, their parents, their grief, the Iraq war, alcoholism. This is necessary in order to explain their propensity for violence in such a way that it appears sympathetic. The UFC is not just a place where violent men over-extend one another's elbows in front of a baying mob - it's a therapeutic octagon where families can get together and work through their problems. 
  9. The hold with which Brendan dislocates Tommy's shoulder is called a Kimura. The climactic final hold, which precipitates Brendan's primal cathartic cry of 'I LOVE YOU! I'M SORRY!' is called, touchingly, a rear naked choke. Because he is naked. Emotionally.
  10. When Tommy continues to fight Brendan, with one arm dangling broken and useless in front of him, it is essential to shout 'it's just a flesh wound!'

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Drive - Nicolas Winding Refn (2011)

  1. Drive is a very beautiful and extremely violent film by the Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn.
  2. If you're wondering how to pronounce that director's name, and you want to sound like you know him from film school, it's Nicholaas Vinding Revfun. You can ham up the non-existent 'u' at the end there as much as you like.
  3. A lot of people, including Winding Refn, talk about it being a film noir - a neon noir even. This is slightly misleading. In fact, as you probably noticed, the film it's most like, structurally-speaking is Shane. It even has the eery man/boy romance. Gosling's character is the weary, chaste, but ultra-competent gunslinger whose sense of honour draws him into a situation beyond his control, so forcing him to engage in the kind of fast-shooting behaviour that's the very thing he's been trying not to do so much of recently. Sorry, when I said 'gunslinger' I meant 'getaway driver' and when I said 'fast-shooting' I meant 'face-stamping'. 
  4. There are a couple of other things that make it more like a western than a noir. The first is a 10-Point Patent Rule© for knowing a noir from a western: the noir hero's talent is for taking punishment. The western hero's punishment is his talent.
  5. The second is that people within the film respond to Ryan Gosling as though he's intimidating. Where as anyone can see that even in an alley on a very dark night Gosling only ever looks like the healthiest gay man in your spinning class. But he was instrumental in instating Winding Refn as the director, and helped protect his vision from the studio execs, so evidently if he wanted to believe he was Charles Bronson, well, it was his train-set basically.
  6. A lot of people hate the pink script that was used in the titles and on the posters. It's called Zephyr, as of course you knew. Probably Winding Refn flexing his Hollywood muscles a bit - Kubrick always chose the type for his film posters.
  7. If you like violence you'll love this. Winding Refn even contacted the Argentine director Gaspar Noé for tips on the face-lift scene in which Gosling appears to stamp through someone's face in a lift. Noé knows about this kind of thing, because he directed Irreversible, a film which opens with a man having his head stoved in with wrong end of a fire extinguisher and climaxes with sixteen minutes of Monica Belucci being raped in an underpass. The film does, jeez sicko.
  8. All the violence conforms to Martin Amis's rule of street fighting: 'maximum violence, instantly.' Like David Cronenburg's, A History of Violence, which Cronenburg researched by watching DVDs he'd bought on the internet that teach you 'how to kill people who attack you in the street'. Unlike that film Drive doesn't ask us any questions about why we like to watch violence. But then maybe not trying to turn it into anything else is the most responsible thing that a director can do. At least there is little gunplay. You may even notice that in this film people who use guns always get shot - a nice touch.
  9. The fork in the eye schtick probably reminded you of Takeshi Kitano's film Hana Bi. Although, of course, in that it was a chopstick, but anyway.
  10. Christina Hendricks looks absolutely bizarre in jeans. And she's not even a real redhead.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Melancholia - Lars von Trier (2011)

  1. Lars von Trier's Melancholia is the most pompous film since Terence Malick made The Tree of Life. It's straining to say some deep stuff about the contrary forces at work in human nature. And like The Tree of Life it collapses under the weight of its own ponderous intentions.
  2. It's in two parts, the first follows depressive, Justine (Kirsten Dunst), through the ordeal of her wedding reception, hosted at the ludicrous country pile owned by her sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and brother-in-law, John (Kiefer Sutherland). The house is an art director's masturbation fantasy, all oak panelling and Murano glass chandeliers juxtaposed with mid-century modernist furniture.* Because it's her wedding they've decked the whole lot out with flowers, candles and fairy lights. She's even been lucky enough to find a kind of humanoid puppy to marry, in the form of Alexander Skarsgård. But is this enough to make Justine happy? Go on, guess. There's a clue in the title.
  3. The second part is a remake of Armageddon but shot by Lars Von Triers, and without the uplifting ending.
  4. There's a major problem with putting a Michael Bay set-up into an arthouse film. In a Bay movie when you want to explain something you can just use two lines of expository dialogue. e.g.: 'Oh sweet fucking Jesus, it looks like the death planet is going to hit us after all, in fact our sensors show that it's approaching (looks over at beeping sensor) at eight million miles per hour.' Obviously Lars von Trier can't bring himself do this, so instead we get Kiefer Sutherland futzing distractedly with a really tasteful telescope before taking a massive overdose. (Spoiler, btw. Sorry.) Kiefer has to OD because it's impossible to use terms like 'velocity', 'massive explosion' or 'impact' in a film where manic depressives shamble around crying on the way to the bath.
  5. Some of the contortions necessary to make all this work are horribly painful. A seven year old boy fashions a rudimentary astrolab from a coat hanger and a stick, and we have to keep referring to this to confirm that, yes, the planet is really coming toward the earth - sometimes with the addition of a wristwatch in shot. Really a beeping sci-fi death sensor would have been more dignified.
  6. Kirsten Dunst's performance is great. Her character is a horribly accurate portrait of a depressive, which may cause you to think very ungenerous things about the untreated depressives you know. It is very hard to feel sympathetic towards people whose feelings bear no relation whatever to the world around them. As much in life as in cinema. But maybe that's Trier's point: they're on another planet.
  7. Dunst moonbathes topless - it's probably the only scene in the film that isn't disappointing.
  8. von Trier seems to be saying something about the persistence of depressives in the gene pool. They really come into their own in a crisis. The prospect of her own extinction causes Claire to fall apart - Justine just doesn't give a shit. In fact, Justine's behaviour doesn't make any sense, unless you're in a situation where we're all going to die...
  9. ... but of course we are all really going to die. Doesn't matter if you're working in a Prontaprint in Hull, you might has well be sitting under a hastily constructed wigwam in the grounds of a National Trust-grade stately home as another planet crashes into the earth at 6 million miles per hour. EITHER WAY YOU'RE STILL GOING TO DIE AREN'T YA?
  10. Justine is a copywriter. Her boss promotes her during his speech at the reception to 'Art Director' - does he mean 'Creative Director'? Because if so, that is some massively sloppy research right there.

*It shares The Tree of Life's irrelevant preoccupation with interior design, that made watching that film feel like taking peyote with the editor of World of Interiors. And look, if fancy curtains and all that are so venal, why do people like Lars von Trier take such delight in shooting them? Is it done with the intention of holding a mirror up to our own venality - or is it simply because he likes looking at Charles Eames toilet brushes as much as we do?

Welcome to Ten Point Review

  1. For a long time I've wanted to write about films online. 
  2. There are already a million and one websites that will review films for you, so I wanted to try to write mine in a way that felt unique.
  3. Sometimes when it comes to writing long complex clausal sentences, I get this overwhelming feeling of despair.
  4. I've enjoyed blogging most when it felt easy.
  5. One of the easiest ways of writing anything is as a list.
  6. Ten points is enough to make an argument fly.
  7. But it also excuses me of the burden of linking ideas together using pointless words and phrases such as 'moreover' and 'furthermore' which frankly aren't fooling anyone.
  8. My day job as a copywriter quite often involves making lists of shit palatable for consumers. And this is my down time.
  9. Lists always go down well on the internet.
  10. Hence, Ten Point Review. Welcome.