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Wonder Woman (2017)
A surprisingly powerful film
The DC Universe gets a powerful boost with Patty Jenkin's engaging, thrilling modern tribute to the Wonder Woman legend. The trailer did not do justice to this polished, beautifully rendered film with an uncommon heart, contrasting the increasingly tired, smug Marvel tone.
The British supporting cast add a deeper flair to the proceedings, with Lucy Davis and David Thewlis offering smart performances. Gal Gadot channels a mixture of innocence, strength, wisdom and humour which reminded me of Christopher Reeve in Superman (1978). The script gives her performance a spirit and urgency which the origin story frame allows to flourish. Chris Pine is equally fine, balancing a challenging mixture of humility and bravado that gives the film a distinct edge.
The parallels with Superman (1978) are particularly apt. Both films kick-started modern takes on legendary figures with colourful, exciting adaptations of origin stories. The actions sequences are intense, clever and filled with emotional resonance.
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Tom Holland soars but Marvel stumbles
Marvel has had a dream run with exciting, engaging films until meddling with the latest reboot of Spider-Man. Instead of expanding the universe, this ho-hum exercise in Marvel franchising wastes the considerable talents of Tom Holland while working an increasingly tired Iron-Man tone into proceedings. The film is salvaged by the performers from Michael Keaton to Zendaya, who are able to bring an engagement the Marvel heavy footprints crush with their self-serving empire building.
The story is deliberately Lo-Fi, aiming for a point of difference within the recent film history by scaling back the action and emotions. This works surprisingly well in the high school and home settings but undermines the intensity of set-piece sequences which, instead of building the excitement, come off as distinctly average CGI scenes. DC took the lead for me in Super-Hero movie magic with Wonder Woman, combining action, drama and emotion with intensity. The problem with Spider-Man Homecoming is the lack of potency for the plot development, the investment doesn't have great pay-offs.
On the plus side, letting the film be better than it deserves to be, Tom Holland does make Spider-Man his own character despite the teen-movie conventions and Marvel tyranny. The refreshing take on Peter Parker's high school friends works in the film's favour with good performances from the young cast, especially Zendaya. Michael Keaton does well to add dimensions to a fairly standard villain. Maris Tomei, however, isn't quite right as Aunt Mae which is a script and plotting issue rather than a performance one.
The production has made much of the local setting being true to the comics, but the lack of narrative drive takes away from the many promising elements. It's not a bad film, just an average one. It lacks genuine threat, suspense, tension and engaging excitement. Thankfully, the cast push this one beyond the Marvel Franchise limitations, offering hope for future films.
Dirty Girl (2010)
Wildly Enjoyable Camp Trip with youthful Heart
Imperfect gems are the joy of the Hollywood mine, this one I found by accident on cable during a flu ridden autumn day home from work. It certainly made me feel better, reminding me of the old youthful heart which yearned for connections and answers desperately, which the two central characters Danielle and Clark, beautifully struck by Juno Temple and Jeremy Dozier, embody in a film rollicking somewhere between John Waters Polyester, John Cameron Mitchell's Hedwig and The Angry Inch and Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion. A relatively simple framework of a road trip movie set in 1987 sees two high school outsiders embark on an escape from the trials of teenage struggles towards adult life and answers only to find they come with their own pain. It's a fun ride with lots of great 1980s stylings and a popping soundtrack with great tracks like Strut by Sheena Easton and more from the likes of Melissa Manchester, Pat Bentar, Rita Coolidge, Belinda Carlisle and Nu Shooz.The support cast is fun with Mary Steenburgen and Milla Jovovich in fine form. It's a very 1980s film and while it's imperfect it's so much fun it transcends it's own limitations to be a delight.
Sto dney do prikaza (1991)
Visually Commanding and challenging
A companion film to Come and See and The Guard, 100 Days Before The Command offers a very different rhythm and style to the war training film. Where films like Full Meal Jacket and Jarhead present the behavioural disintegration of their subjects, this film offers a more subconscious vision of where the personality goes when fragmented by the rigours of a depersonalising military command. This is not a film for viewers after a coherent narrative or a dialogue-driven journey, but for those brave enough to surrender their militant devotion to narrative film boundaries and spoon-fed cinematic experiences there is plenty here to explore. If films such as Father and Son excited your urge to introspection, this film will be a worthwhile venture. If a slowly evolving, visually commanding exploration of the male psyche and body in the Russian military and the relationship between men in such circumstances isn't where you are at I would settle for something less challenging.
Superman Returns (2006)
The heart and soul of Superman Returns
Expectations were heavy when I first saw the trailer for Superman Returns and desperately wished that the film could deliver some of the magic of the original Superman and its excellent sequel. Superman 3 and 4 were somewhat enjoyable but disconnected films which I couldn't embrace with the joy of the first two films which I saw at ages 5 and 7. I feared maybe I was too old for Superman. With Superman Returns, I discovered the magic was not gone.
Bryan Singer has done a wonderful job putting Superman back in the emotional and visual context of the superior first two Christopher Reeve led Superman films. He is faithful and genuinely careful to reinvigorate the Superman legend but not without a super-twist which I won't spoil for impending viewers and which I would avoid seeking out as not knowing what was to come made this film a much better experience for me.
What also made this film work for me was the careful balance of characterization and action which made the earlier films so magnificent in tone and pace. Kate Bosworth is no Margot Kidder and lacks the vibrant intensity of her predecessor, but she and Brandon Routh have chemistry and she does well to make the role her own in a slightly less edgy way. Its the only slight disappointment but it didn't hurt the film for me.
Kevin Spacey runs riot with Lex Luthor in a way not dissimilar to Gene Hackman but with a more sadistic edge.
I enjoyed and was thrilled by Superman Returns which offers all the fun and excitement of the films which I loved as a kid. Although I am older,it was nice to be roused and moved by the music, characters and skillful direction once again. Can't wait for more. Excellent.
The Chumscrubber (2005)
In truth you are freed, Chumscrubber or not
In the fine tradition of "Heathers", "Welcome To The Dollhouse", and "Donnie Darko", "The Chumscrubber" provides compelling and essential viewing.
At first this film appeared from early advertisements to be a possible sequel to "Thumbsucker". It also features Lou Taylor Pucci who played the title role in the earlier film but "The Chumscrubber" is a different beast. While also supporting a knockout cast of mature actors to complement its teen stars, this current film has a strong design theme and a sure sense of momentum which drives the film relentlessly on from the somewhat absurd to the outright wacky. The final shot is a masterful touch not worth missing.
The film spends a few days in the life of Dean Stiffle, a young man getting by on the happy pills which dominate so many of the lives in the planned, homogenous town where he lives a rather solitary life with his game-addicted brother, vitamin obsessed mother, and self-help espousing and desperately exploitative writer/father. When a young man in the town dies, the links between surrounding strangers, acquaintances and friends are thrown into disarray and the dependence of the townsfolk on their various drugs and relationships of choice are revealed in new lights. The results include kidnapping, blackmail, and dark, dark humour highlighted by the film's new media superstar "The Chumscrubber" character itself.
Jamie Bell, so striking in Billy Elliot, plays the subdued Dean with an intensity that promises to glow ever brighter. The supporting company of especially fine performers such as Glenn Close, Ralph Fiennes, William Fichtner, Rita Wilson, Carrie Ann Moss, Allison Janney, Jason Isaacs, Lauren Holly and John Heard amongst others all get their moments to shine in a script which maintains the right blend of character development, absurdist humour and frightening parallels with the world outside the film.
"The Chumscrubber" is all things a good film should be; entertaining, provocative, intelligent and insightful. As painful as the journey may be, in truth we are all freed. Even the Chumscrubber. But not everyone, not even us personally, always wants the truth. In which case, there are many coloured pills and potions to hide behind and within.
Deep Inside Fear
Boogeyman was a refreshing horror film which explored the depth of male fear - which may or may not be a fear of what is inside oneself. Barry Watson carries the film with an intuitive performance which capably envelopes the film in the torment and terror of childhood abandonment and having to face an ever darkening past he has tried hard to abandon. After the death of his mother, a young man returns to his empty childhood home to overcome the horror which haunts him. Exactly what this horror is drives the film successfully for quite a way until faltering in its final third when terror predictably gets an embodiment reducing the devastating expectation of the unseen, ominous darkness which makes the first two-thirds of the film so creepily unnerving. As with the Butterfly Effect, its a film that shirks the irritating comedic-horror-style that practically diseased horror films from the success of Scream onwards. There are no cheap moments of light-relief here which makes the thrills so much more startling. Here is the tale of a disturbed young man having to face up to the demons he's tried to ignore. A successful, unusual blast from the past genre piece. Refreshing, mostly, because its subject is male and his fear is destroying him.
the complex nature of identity in spider
Of the ways to capture the sadness and melancholy of the loss of
self through a cataclysmic event, this film chooses a meditative
path. Cronenberg's films have become increasingly focussed on
the complex nature of identity with this being the most dissociative
and yet oddly engaging. With a topline cast of Miranda Richardson,
Gabriel Byrne, Ralph Fiennes and Lynn Redgrave, these quiet and
quaint performances are filled with frailty and a lurking unease.
These characters - as channelled through the disturbed Spider
(Fiennes) - are both oddly aware of their possession by the central
character and yet remain rebellious and ultimately uncontrollable.
Spider's dilemma throughout is his inability to reconcile his identity
with his actions and his warped mindscape. He remains dispersed between experience, perception, outer expectation and
his own web-spinning. Reality in the film is represented by the
objects that Spider weaves into his various mental states - the
ropes, his journal, his cigarettes, his clothes, his parents - while
the events in the film are inseparable from Spider's sexual
obsession and emotional withdrawal. Its a film which relies upon
a patient and gentle viewer who can accept the various levels of
operation - cinematic, literary, philosophical, psychological and
emotional. Its a rewarding experience for viewers willing to engage
with the implications and intimations but may be too subtle and
gradual for some viewers.
The Little Feller (1982)
The Hand That Rocks the PotPlant
A rarely seen small, unambitious Australian film about obsession in the "Hand That Rocks The Cradle" mode which fits neatly into the tv movie mould except for the sexy, brazen performance of Steve Bisley (from Mad Max) as the cut-off-denim-shorts wearing stud-muffin pursued by a desperate, psychotic misty-wannabe determined to ruin his sweet marriage to her best friend. She also wants to get rid of the child (the little feller) to have her dream man all to her trampy, saucy self. Its a very upper middle class Brisane (more sydney like at times) depicted in the film with a very early 80s Australian filmic style both very naturalistic and breezy. The melodramatic grand finale is worth the wait for camp value (the swinging, hanging potplant as instrument of fear!!!).
Maybe this is Heaven?
There are films about loss and films and learning and "Heaven"
unites the two in a subtle but painful union. Maybe the distance
between these two opposites is not ever as measurable as when
united and Heaven may be the place.
Based upon a "screenplay" by Krystof Kieslowski and his writing
partner, Tom Twyker has created from these ashes a film
necessarily different but maybe closer to its source. In uniting
difficult partners - dead and living, criminal and police, innocent
and guilty, honest and dishonest, alive and dead - Twyker
manages a film so impossibly, absurdly beautiful it threatens to
cave in upon itself but never does. Rarely does a film so
provocative and yet gentle leave me so still and yet moved. I
haven't the desire nor passion to tear apart the odd feelings this
film left me with...except to say maybe this is heaven.
A dark, voyeuristic journey next door
Larry Clark's films are like snapshots, very much photographs in
motion or action. Therefore, unsurprisingly, the character is in the
detail. Rather than layered with characterisation, this film reveals
characters in still moments (a couples' naked embrace, a family at
a table, a naked mother embracing her baby).
Being a photographer before a director - and before that the son of
a baby photographer - Clark's artistic form hits a peak in Bully.
Visually, the film is a voyeuristic intervention by Clark. He gets
inside the intimate moments and doesn't flinch - the casual
violence and drug abuse are survival tools for these wasted,
suffocating youths. Its filmed very much inside the teen world of
these kids who lack not only purpose but an identity of their own. At
their age, some may argue this is ordinary but these characters
require some base which is sadly beyond them and their families.
The essentially vacant children here are dominated by parents
whose concerns translate as demands rather than any active
relationship. A blind eye is turned at every event, the young
adolescents worlds become increasingly sadistic as they often
mimic their parents. The Bully of the title, Bobby, is his father's son
and the hint of a darker side to their relationship simmers beneath
the surface. The father's constant verbal degrading of Marty -
Bobby's best friend and target - and intense expectations of his
son create the bully. Bobby enjoys the power but only because of
Marty's powerlessness - within his own family, in his friendship
with Bobby, and romantically. Marty's revenge is the result of
built-up, repressed anger easily teased out by a young woman,
Lisa, desperately in love with him and seeking a more concrete
place in his life. Her painful need for Marty - she calls him her
"dream" with an obssessive, dangerous glint in her eye -
motivates but doesn't cause the tragic turn of events. The group's
mindset is like a snapshot - frozen in a moment without foresight -
and their lack of any feeling bar self-protection is coherent in the
context of the surrounding film.
The background to these young peoples lives is entangled in the
blankness of their families whose shocked faces at the end of the
film carry a - too late - burden of guilt.
The performances are suitably shell-shocked and sadisitic, and
the feeling that this is all a game for the teens continues till the
last. This is a film where sex and nudity are all about power - be it
monetary, emotional or physical. Clark's camera is itself complicit
in this world at times, intoxicated by it and his handsome subjects,
but finally this gives us access to the teens world in a way a more
controversy-shy director may have missed. Like Kids, this is a film
colliding with reality with raw, confronting results.
Life as a House (2001)
Method in the illness
There are some films that require a certain kind of faith from the
viewer. "Weepies" are inevitably about indulgence and similarly to
porn the way this comes is in a moment of release, in this case
emotional. The best of them, like this film, provide good drama
and startling performances which touch you with the right blend of
comical elements and painful realisations.
Kevin Kline makes this film work with a telling portrayal of a man
with a choice; to do something with the time left or to leave it all
behind and die in helpless bitterness. I never felt manipulated by
this film though I had defences up and at the ready. It got under my
skin and left me saddened but empowered. The cast are a great
ensemble and the beautiful setting - coveniently symbolic as it is -
adds a glow to the film.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)
Put on some make up!
Hedwig puts the glamour into glam rock with a delicious wildcat
comic touch. What makes this film even better is the Plato-derived
mythology which posits a whole different spin on our strange little
globe. In the end though, the truth Hedwig finds is the simplest of
all. Its a movie which grows more attractive with each viewing and
requires just a little romantic attachment from the viewer at first but
once the love affair is underway you're swept up.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch are a band, and Hedwig is the
acid-tongued leader who unsuccessfully stalks a young man -
Tommy Gnossis - who stole not only Hedwig's heart but most of
the back catalogue. Hedwig's story is told in flashback mixing the
stoushes with megastar Tommy's security with the tale of a young
German boy who "put on some make-up" and lost himself in
The film is a classic "journey to the centre of the self", "my life is a
song" and "love the one you are" musical explosion with energetic
performances and a touching, endearing creation of character
from director/star John Cameron Mitchell. If there is any criticism
its that the deleted scenes you can find on the DVD should have
been left in there. The beauty contest is a gem.
There's not a false note in the performances and the streamlined
film buzzes by with stinging one-liners, cute comic jabs, and a
dynamic visual sense on what was a pretty tightly budgeted effort. I saw the film first almost a year ago and now with the DVD have a
weekly Hedwig fix. This is a cult film waiting to explode. Get to it.
La pianiste (2001)
An amazing journey into the heart of darkness
Few films dare to embrace a character as intimately as The Piano
Teacher. Fewer still would dare to get so close and offer neither
comfort nor redemption but instead, a critique of power and its
unending reign of terror. Michael Haneke has directed this film
with an everyday eye which is all the more confronting and
revealing for its expression of the dark depths of the mundane.
Erika is the piano teacher but she has nothing to give. Her
students are taught by their parents to love the fear and sadism
which she offers them when its emptiness confounds them and
robs her of purpose. Beyond the discipline which her craft
demands and a desperate, intense relationship with her mother,
Erika seeks out sexual expression vicariously. She has her role in
the world but subverts it gently by venturing like a wolf into the
fringes of everday life. She is a voyeur in a world around her which
values her talent but not her own person. A society set which
cherishes blindly the musical art of Schumann and Schubert
without any context but the silent, knowing self-satisfaction of
arrogant appreciation. For them, she is a brilliant pianist and
teacher, a dutiful daughter, and a convenient artistic freak raised
Erika is not a victim. Haneke brilliantly enables her life to be
expressed in the minute everyday details which define the society
in which she lives and the prison which holds us all. Erika does
not evolve so much as become aware of what already binds her.
The film conveys a bleak vision but an honest and confronting one.
At a recital, Erika is confronted with Walter Klemmer, a young man
with confidence but a profound lack of experience. His raw talent,
physical beauty and warmth inspires in others respect and
devotion, but for Erika he is another bottle sitting on the wall. His
beauty and charm are obvious, but she desires him as an
imaginary self. She wants to possess him on strict terms. She is a
teacher, but she doesn't want him as a student. The scene in
which she tries to reject his application to study under her only to
be overruled by other teachers perfectly represents the
powerlessness she is subjected to and the subtle vengeance she
must eventually wreak.
This is not a film about a character finding herself. It is a film about
power. Erika may want to be exposed but only in a court of her
making, in a trial where her guilt can be punished. It seems that
the annihilation of being controlled in a sadomasochistic sense,
emotionally and sexually, being silenced comes naturally to Erika.
She knows nothing else, trusts nothing else and is appreciated
When Walter does become Erika's imaginary self , she can see
the horror of these power relations. She sees the heart of
darkness but in the end, so does Walter. Except in a world of men,
power and class, Erika is revealed to be a prophet of the most
damning kind. Her final act, reminiscent of Pasolini's Salo, is a
last stand. Our final glimpse of Walter is perhaps even more
There are so many brilliants scenes in the film, yet its final form
expresses much more than any of them. Such films are not
common, but like treasure they are often found. I hope many of you
embark on the journey.
Enemy at the Gates (2001)
A crushing reminder of the grotesque potency of war
War films, as a genre generally, offer insights into the human condition
which other movies do not. Its the threat of death and immediacy of loss
that allow stark and painful ideas to emerge. With the constancy - and
inescapable fear - of harm, driving these movies, its easy to be equally
captivated and mortified. I found Enemy At the Gates one of the most
terrifying, gut wrenching films I have seen. One almost feels a gung ho
immunity after watching other war films but this film breaks through
such defences. I felt a creepy paranoia watching scenes such as those
where soldiers are gunned down by their comrades to prevent retreat. It
illuminated too vibrantly the horror and waste of war. This is very much
a grunt movie - in the battle zone and without any outside influence bar
the haunting and equally terrifying opening. Jude Law's Vasilli Zaitsev
is a young boy in this early scene, being taught to shoot at a wolf
lured by a restrained horse left in the open as bait. The chilling
pressure of this early flashback is continued throughout the film which
then launches into the deadly battleground of Stalingrad. Its World War
2 and as the German army advance through Europe and into Russia the
likelihood of German victory seems increasingly certain as the Russian
spirits crumble in the face of superior military strength. It comes down
(in the film's narrative anyway) to a young writers' propaganda to lift
the pride of the army. Danilov (Joseph Fiennes) finds in the now grown
sniper Zaitsev the spirit of victory and uses pamphlets and newspapers
to promote the shooting prowess and hiding skills of Zaitsev. As morale
builds and Zaitsev becomes a hero to the Russian people, a rift grows
between the two men whose friendship is tested by their conflicting love
for a young female sniper, Chernova (played by Rachel Weisz). The film
is beautifully made and features a suave, cruel villain in the form of
Ed Harris' icy Major Konig. A scene towards the end reveals the
unspeakable, hideous depravity of Nazism and left me stunned.Jude Law
captures a shattering innocence that is heartbreaking while Joseph
Fiennes offers a restrained and moving vision of a man in the
background. Weisz is probably the least well served in character terms
but she does well with her limited role. Its not a rousing film but it
is instead intensely powerful and extremely unsettling. A film for the
big screen, where the loud gunfire and clouds of smoke can be truly
appreciated. A crushing reminder of the grotesque potency of war.
A different kind of "Cult" film
If a quasi-mythical, strange odyssey into a distorted matriarchal society marked by strange hippy ceremonies and sexual torture of all and sundry sounds like your desire for the night this might just be your choice viewing material. Its an intriguing oddity marketed in some countries as porn (Divine Emanuelle), in others as some sort of crime/action film. Its reminiscent of the "cult" films like Guyana and the real events on which they were based like the Jonestown cult: ie, kooky dnacing, chanting and solemn ceremonial garb soon ripped or torn like some Greek melodrama/historical play with bouts of murder and violence mixed with sexual power games. It is an undeniably luscious cheap film in terms of design and location with kinky indulgence in various fetishes from whipping to stalking plus generous doses of nudity both male and female. Its a quirky flick starring the Nubian-like Queen of exploitation (Black Emmanuelle) Laura Gemser wielding her power generously upon a vast array of dutiful and punishable subjects as she seeks further power and wealth. A film for exploitation/film-porn junkies with a sense of humour.
A mutant-extreme-adult-epic-opulent pantomine
This is a film about the Roman Emperor Caligula and his mad, mad rule encompassing all manner of sexual, violent and despotic acts. As his mind became increasingly erratic, uncontrollable and unstable, Rome faced a dangerous period of uncertainty. The period of cinema from 1968-1982 was arguably characterised by a number of films with similarly conflicted temperaments. Its an era which produced some of the darkest, cruelest, most explicit and yet most lush, grand and fascinating films ever produced. Often epic in scale or aim, these films contained scenes of fading hope buried deep beneath their harsh, exotic exteriors. In spite of their odd beauty, these films remain severe indictments (whether intended or not) of societies and cultures while recognising the seductive and indulgent ecstacy of their era. Caligula (the 1977/80 film) is the opulent, fascinating but often empty climax to this genre. Few films are such a potpourri of forces, such a bastard blend of genres, themes and aims. Caligula is an epic runaway horse, bolting from the reins of all its conlicting masters: Tinto Brass (original director/disowned end result), Gore Vidal (original writer/disowned end result), Bob Guccionne (money man/final cut master - film extremely altered by him). All these Dr Frankensteins' added something to this film before unleashing it as the tainted, demonised monster it now has become. Guccionne tried to (w)rec(k)tify the film by adding porn inserts and Penthous-ing it up while Brass seems to have attempted to make the film an historical, decadent epic along the lines of his own film Salon Kitty which focused upon Nazism in WW2 (which featured similarly extreme violence and opulence in dubious circumstances). Gore Vidal provided the outline of the tale but much of the homo-eroticism and cruelty of the era have been de-nuded by Guccione's straight-porn industry busi-nous (sic). Of course none of them reign supreme but elements of all these men's visions compete in the film no matter which version you see (the original version shown at Cannes was apparently 3 hours and 30 minutes, the "uncut" versions are around 2 hours and 30-40 minutes, and the modified/"cut" versions range from just under two hours to just over - there are a number of versions about.) Caligula is a piece of cinema history not to be missed; its scale and vision are distinctive to the 70s/80s film universe where porn flirted with mainstream filmmaking and vice-versa (Deep Throat, The Case of The Smiling Stiffs etc); where extreme-films and horror-flicks were reaching supreme powers (think The Exorcist, Salo, Cannibal Holocaust, Dawn of the Dead to name only a few). Caligula was the end of an era however in many ways; its extremity and warped historical consciousness would give way to a more limited extremity in the likes of Tarentino (a pulp consciousness though no less cruel or indulgent). In Caligula there is something of a mockery of the institution of power, a nose-turned up at the righteous who believe power and desire can be controlled and yet equally a fear concerning the limits of unlimited passion/desire/power and its expression. Its a film full of excellent performers who no doubt quietly relished the excesses afforded them in this wild epic film. Its reminds me of a mutant historical, adult-epic-pantomine. The sets are huge and the fantasy elements of mutations and deviations are over-the-top. It would be incredible to see what was left out of this film on the cutting room floor - to see three different versions - The Vidal Caligula (more homo-erotic/literate) + The Brass Caligula (more extreme/saucy) as well as the Guccione Caligula (porn-pourri). I imagine this may remain something of a fancy.
You Can Count on Me (2000)
Hard Truths, Unexpected Twists, and Emotional Punch
There has been a deserved chorus of approval from nearly all quarters for this focussed, elegant small-town homecoming film which is full of twists and
unexpected turns and emotional punch. And here comes another positive,
glowing review. There are some films which can lay claim to universal appeal
and You Can Count On Me ranks as a defining example. Its appealing mainly
because of its vividly rendered characters - and the talented performers who
bring them to cinematic life - whose joys, pains and struggles resonate and
ignite this tale about two siblings. Sammy and Terry remain haunted by a
childhood struck violently by tragedy. Their lives have since remained glued in the shadowy web of "what ifs" and various processes of denial and
confrontation brought about from their being orphaned young. None of this is
made blatant in the film but you feel it in Laura Linney's determined, outwardly confident but emotionally-wounded Sammy and in Mark Ruffalo's intensely
unpredictable but wonderfully honest creation of Terry. Both these performers hit the right notes with subtlety and immense belief in the characters and the script. And the supporting cast back them up with panache and unshowy class -
especially the newest Culkin child star to hit the screen - Rory - as Sammy's young son, Rudy. His wide-eyed, bright but understated performance is a
brilliant debut. The film charts Terry's journey back home to visit his sister and the repercussions of two opposing forces - a rootless, uncertain drifter and a relentlessly stable, small town dweller. Unexpectedly nothing is as it seems and early indications are quickly undone
and surfaces reveal unapparent depths. Director Kenneth Lonergan weaves the
effect wrought by childhood trauma in the most clever and plot-driven manner
without sacrificing the integrity or balance of the characters. It lays just beneath the surface of events mirroring the startling unspoken manner of real life where people's lives are foundations built upon sometimes unfortuante ground. And of course, the way to deal with this is to move on or rectify the problems beneath. You Can Count On Me offers a meditation on the way people cope and fail to
cope with life. Its a complex, painful love story between siblings whose strongest bond of love was wrenched from them - and who have to rebuild the passion,
guidance and trust lost from their lives. There's no simple upbeat message or ready-to-wear answers - but there are hard truths present in this film which are not easy to digest but worth chewing over. A moving, triumphant piece of quality filmmaking missed at your own risk.
Stunts, games and dubious cynicism
If nothing else, a film which opens with a monologue concerning Dog Day
Afternoon deserves some applause - a film which this flick can only
dream of resembling. Yet, despite its "event movie" mega-stunts and
slick-unreality there is an air of subversion to this film. Travolta
resumes his love of the bad-guy-sadism-lark as Gabriel, a power-broker
with his fingers in lotsa peoples pies. He wants Hugh Jackman's Stanley.
Mainly to embezzle some money by hacking into excess government funds,
but also to toy with and torture in various ways. Halle Berry vamps up
her dangerous woman role but doesn't invest much in the film bar her
breasts - probably a wise choice. Don Cheadle expresses disbelief well
and probably narrates the film in some ways with his "gosh, wow, whoa"
facial turns. Its a subversive film mainly because it implicates
everyone as innately dangerous and values nobody in its blasting way -
except maybe Stanley's daughter who gets dragged in to the proceedings
to try and offer some emotional element in this otherwise sentiment-free
zone. Its a film where life is a game, where everyone's just a player
out to win, except the games are never what they seem. On the upside, it
can't be denied - the film delivers in the stunt department and
Travolta's showy, smart villain is deliciously fun. Its just the dubious
cynicism that leaves a bad taste.
Strange gyrations deep below...
Imagine its 1975. Out of some closet-vault explodes a film based on a
musical - but not just any musical. A musical called The Rocky Horror
Show. Strange, you may say, but nonetheless true. Its story tells the
tragic yet tantalising tale of a Dr Frank N Furter and his crew who are
holding a convention of sorts in a castle in the middle of nowhere only
to be interrupted by a terribly sweet, newly engaged - somehow stranded
in a storm at this far-away castle - couple named Brad and Janet. Its
narrated by a Narrator named simply that but from the start you realise
all is not as it seems and never will be again. For one day, across
distant and not so distant lands, it is foretold that people will break
out into a dance as this film still screens late - very late - in the
eternal night. They call this strange gyration... The Time Warp........
You will do the time warp again? Won't you?
I envy the person who hasn't seen this classic. Its amazing how magical
this film remains almost 30 years after its initial release. It remains
a rare incredible gem full of joy and yet so sincerely clever. One of
the best examples of this film's brilliance is its subversion of the
hero/villain relationship. Nobody is who they seem in this film and the
roles turn every character inside out. Dr Frank N Furter switches wildly
from camp queen to vicious leader to crumbling diva. Tim Curry's
performance remains a spunky, full throttle embrace of absolute
pleasure. The songs remain rollicking, engaging and even beautifully
melancholic - especially Frank's final tunes in the film. "Don't dream
it, be it" is so sad and yet so brilliant a final coda for the film.
This is a dream made cinematic. Long may it live to do the time warp
again and take us back to our first corruption/eruption.
A guilty pleasure, this common treasure.
On first viewing, I loved Titanic against my desire. It had one of the
most beautiful musical scores I'd heard, so haunting and captivating it
made my heart sink in a dizzy flutter of melancholic wonder. I'd
previously loathed Celine Dion's music and despised her milking of
emotion - but "My Heart Will Go On" broke down my resistance via this
film and its instrumental scoring therein. One of my guiltiest pleasures
remains this film which many of my alternative instincts demanded I hate
on principle. (ie "10 or more smaller films could have been made for the
cost" etc) I saw Titanic several times at the cinema but avoided seeing it on video
- I doubted it could work minus the giant screen and surround sound.
Last night - nearly four years later - I watched it on television
nervously. But revisiting Titanic in this way didn't destroy the majesty
but brought a sense of renewal. The film retains a magical romantic
quality that becomes most apparent in its moments of silence as the
Titanic sails over the water and the characters exchange wordless
glances while that wonderfully melancholic and dreamy score drifts round
the mind. I was also afraid the external issues which came to shadow
over the film (the Oscar stuff, the cost, the negativity, star ego,
over-exposure and so on) would impact on my experience along with age
and changes in my life. Yet, none of these issues took hold. The film is
still arresting, sweet, powerful and convincing. Small moments and
certain shots remain classic touches and trademark the film as a
memorable movie. The plot involving love against the odds and a struggle between social
distinctions/classes is hardly the simple cliche that many critical
approaches to the film emphasise. Its a daily, everday experience that
the film raises to epic, grand levels - as film inevitably always does
by its very nature. The story of two strangers who - through luck on
Jack's part, and failed social engineering on the part of Rose's mother
- meet aboard the unsinkable super-ship Titanic and find themselves
subverting the order of things in the name of love - and finding that
love changed forever by the tragic sinking of Titanic - resonates with a
grandeur that is never arch or distant. The film always trusts the
youthful, idealistic exuberance of love and the rest of the events pale
into the background. If the script is anything it is a submissive crutch
to the passion which drives the film. If there is a common,
unsophisticated touch to it maybe that shouldn't be so quickly dismissed
or treated with such negative ire - common after all also means widely
circulated and available to more than a privileged few. The performances grow more interesting as time flows on. DiCaprio's
smarm becomes more and more of a charm as Winslet's reserve feels more
and more a crumbling cage for her passion. As a couple, they offer a
youthful charge never more apparent than in the scenes in the
lower-class quarters below as their romance takes a furious hold. And
the framing story is a nice adjunct as the adventurers and divers are
enthralled by the older Rose's heartbreaking tale of love, loss, and the
magic of memory. As a depiction of oral storytelling, it makes one long
for the intimacy of such a situation and cherish the deeper, felt
communication between friends, lovers and sometimes - maybe most
magically of all - strangers. Characters like Jack and Rose remind us of the romantic dreaminess of
being young and growing, learning and experiencing. Which remains a
great antidote to the cynicism and callousness of many other popular
films. Long live diversity and unexpected treasures like Titanic.
Storie di ordinaria follia (1981)
An exploration of the passions of flesh
Marco Ferreri is a challenging film artist. His films are powered by an
insistent, intense focus on the passions of flesh - the human response
to, need for, and meditation on our bodily bounds and desires. In his
other films he's explored the excesses which bind our mortality from
hunger to sex to suicide. Here he zeroes in on the texts of the poet
Charles Bukowski, whose poetic life of booze and sexual conquest has him
teetering on the brink of annihilation but remaining firmly in the realm
of fierce, soulful expression. The main character in Tales of Ordinary
Madness is a poet whose relationships with women range from the
infantile to the sadomasochistic while he continues to binge on a diet
of alcohol. What he doesn't expect is to fall in love. Being a poetic
film (that is based around symbols and evocative imagery rather than
plot) this is a beautiful, estranged experience. Its a fascinating
glimpse of America from the outside. Vividly powered by Ben Gazzara's
performance as the outsider poet in the shadows of society, this is a
film to be explored with a roving eye. Its a film where the sex scenes
are not choreographed and sensual but brutal and unflinching in their
approach to the passions of flesh. Its a rough film but one which takes
us into the dark corners of love.
Hard Knocks (1980)
A different type of punk film/youth drama
If Australia has come close to producing a punk film, Hard Knocks is it. Its a film driven by its music soundtrack full of classic Australian rock music which may not seem "punk" in the limited US or UK sense, but bares its punk teeth more clearly in terms of scripting and plot. (I'd define punk more in terms of alternative living/critique of society rather than as fashion or sound as these are always localised) Its the tale of a young woman named Samantha who is trying to fathom how to live after a life of petty crime sees her locked up in a detention centre. Once freed, she pursues life as a model but can't escape her roots or critical sense of self and society. Tracy Mann is exceptionally powerful in showing the punk girl turned small-scale fashion model and her struggle to move forward in a society filled with unemployment and increasing despair and social disparity. Its also the story of a survivor doing the best she can to be true to herself. Famous Australian singer Deborah Conway appears as a fellow model and Bill Hunter (Muriels Wedding, Priscilla) plays a mean cop. The cast is chock full of great Australian performers like Max Cullen. Its a strong dramatic piece and offers a fascinating snapshot of Australia at the turn of the 70s/80s. A very local punk film with good characterisation and a sharp political edge.
Ticket to Heaven (1981)
A lost performance gem.
Nick Mancuso throws his all into the part of David, a young man seeking some meaning from his messy life who ends up bound tight in the web of a quasi-religious cult group. But he's got some big competition from co-star Saul Rubinek.
In the early eighties there were a couple of films fascinated by ideas of brainwashing, religious cults and deprogramming. Split Image is a companion piece to this film, which will interest many simply because of Kim Catrall's appearance as the obsessessed Ruthie, but which is even more notable I think for the strong friendship between Saul Rubinek's stand-up comedian character and the troubled protagonist, David. The film builds a poignant, revealing portrait of these two friends whose bond is crucial in determining both their futures. Rubinek is one of those instantly familiar faces whose performances in films like The Contender, Nixon, True Romance, and Dick conceal him in that strange underclass of actors - the supporting player (as opposed to the more showy supporting "Actor" parts claimed by brilliant die-hards like Dennis Hopper and Dianne Wiest.)
In this film, however, he shines and deserves to be seen in an excellently performed role. Mancuso similarly hasn't had much chance to fire like he does here (admittedly he wasn't the greatest Marquis De Sade in the film of the same name a couple of years back). His transformation here though is painful to watch but compelling and easy to empathise with as he struggles with notions of identity and truth.
If this film has any problem it is that the film is kind of tailored-for-effect a little too neatly like a tv movie, but it still manages to provoke some suspense thanks to the intensely credible performers.
An interesting lost gem of the early eighties.
A un dios desconocido (1977)
A rewarding film of nuance of quiet revelation
Its been a while since I saw this film but its stayed with me both visually and emotionally. To An Unknown God is a film about an aging man coming to terms with his (homo)sexuality and mortality. Its a film notable in key part for the lived-in, tough acting of Hector Alterio whose characterisation enhances the loneliness and isolation of a character yearning to escape his limitations while equally determined to face unashamedly the truth of his life and its finality. Its an unromantic film but one which aches with a coming-to-terms approach and which nonetheless offers moments of hard-fought care and affection. His relationship with a younger man here is tough but necessarily so - here is an older man who has spent his life not-being himself faced with the ultimate force of being alive in facing its approaching - though unknown - closure. As with all performance pieces, this is a film of nuance and quiet revelation which is ultimately rewarding.