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.