On Monday I took advantage of the cheap tickets at Cinema Nova in Carlton. Seriously, $6 for a movie before 4pm – if you’re not working, why wouldn’t you? I was tossing up between ‘Frank’ and ‘The Rover’, I chose the latter because it started sooner. I’d heard a bit about the film, I vaguely recalled Marc Fennel having talked about it on Triple J, and I like Guy Pierce so it seemed like a good plan.
The Rover theatrical poster
I went into it with absolutely no expectations – I didn’t have much idea what the premise was, nor had I seen Animal Kingdom, the first film by the director David Michod. This may not have worked in my favour. My initial reaction to this is that it’s Mad Max but rewritten with George R. R. Martin’s penchant for death. It’s bleak, and I mean bleak. Walking out I felt quiet, a little overwhelmed, and with a feeling of ‘if this is where the world’s going, we may as well all kill ourselves now and save the bother.’ But let me deconstruct that a bit.
Firstly, the narrative. The opening of the film explains that we’re ten years after ‘the collapse’, no context is given for this. I becomes clear as we go along that there was some sort of serious global economic crisis thing, that law and order has fallen over, that Australia is a giant open cut mine, and that the money and work have run out. It’s a dystopian future scenario. The first thing that happens is Eric’s (Guy Pierce) car is stolen and the rest of the story is about getting the car back.
It is a slow moving film, with lots of atmosphere. This is built in part by the soundtrack, by Antony Partos, which felt very post-apocalyptic, all banging piano strings with hammers and bowing bits of metal. It was also very loud, which I expect was deliberate to create a sense of oppression of sound. At least it did for me. The rest of the atmosphere is developed by the lack of dialogue. As Fennel describes, it is not the words that matter here, but what is not said – the gaps between the characters, their PSTD-esque stares, in particular from Eric, who is a mysterious and hard-to-sympathise-with character. I suspect that this impression is heightened by the focus on listening – what I mean is how much of the film shows actors reacting to dialogue as opposed to acting dialogue. In particular a scene between Eric and Sgt Rick Rickoffersen in which Eric talks about how he got to this point and we watch Rickoffersen hear his story. The effect is powerful in a way that it wouldn’t be if we’d watched Eric talk.
Visually, this film is typical of the Australian outback film. These is a lot of dust, and sweat, and reds and browns and yellows. Everything is old and broken and dirty. I don’t know how well an international audience would relate to this, but I felt like it was very true to the tone of the outback, in this case filmed in South Australia – it’s hot, dry, brown and empty.
Still: The Rover
Finally to the acting. Eric and Rey (Robert Pattinson) are extremely different characters, and this was borne out very well in their physicality. Eric was still, almost zen-like in his demeaner, he stares straight ahead and barely seems to be affected by anything going on around him. Rey, on the other hand, is jittery, fidgety, scattered and potentially low in the intelligence stakes. Rey also has an almost unintelligible southern American drawl which is juxtaposed to Eric’s crisp Australian speech. I’ve always thought that silent acting is the hardest, being able to convey your whole character without words, and this film does really well in this regard.
So what didn’t I like? Well for one thing, this film has only two female characters who don’t meet, so it fails the Bechdel test miserably. Secondly, I’m not sure how well it will survive over time given that it leaves the viewer feeling absolutely defeated – I don’t know how many people will chose to rewatch a film that’s this intense. I felt similar about Nymphomaniac actually, it requires quite a lot from the viewer and doesn’t give much back.
In a nutshell, I’m going to give this 3.5 out of 5 stars, there are some excellent parts to this film but overall it was just a little bit much.
I don’t think I got Jim Jarmusch until today. I saw ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ at the magnificent Astor Theatre earlier today and it was glorious. The central characters of the film, Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) are vampires. They are impossibly old, they are reclusive – in the world but not of it, they are artistic, and they are so, so in love. If I had only two words for this film, they would be languid, and restrained.
Still: Only Lovers Left Alive
The film was beautifully realised in a number of ways, I will try to go each of them. Firstly, cinematographically, this film had some lovely themes. Adam, who lives in Detroit, is black – his clothes are black, his hair is black, his house is very dark, and all of the scenes in Detroit are dark. Eve on the other hand, who lives in Tangier, is white – her clothes are pale, her hair is pale, her house is pale, even the scenes in Tangier, which are at night, are much paler in comparison.
The characterisation is lovely too, Adam is a reclusive, musician who is pretty grumpy, fascinated by the world of science and weary of the zombies (humans). Eve is light, but thoughtful, she reads every language, she is fascinated by the world of humans and has a zest for existence. They are the quintessential yin and yang, and they were small charms of the other’s colours as a token of their difference and their love.
Thirdly, the acting by Swinton and Hiddleston is delightful, much of which is without dialogue. The whole film is quite minimalist in some ways, but the affection between the two leads is very real. I saw an interview with the two of them, along with Jarmusch and John Hurt (who plays Christopher Marlowe) and it was clear that the affection between them was not only on screen. Their ability to portray a love which is literally ageless but still just as potent was truly remarkable – their complete comfort with each others’ presence while still having a burning desire for the other were equally believable. Together, they achieve a level of sexiness that is rarely seen, and is heightened by their never consummating it on screen.
Music also plays a huge part in the effect of this film. I commented to a friend as soon as the credits were finished that I must get hold of the soundtrack immediately. Most of the soundtrack is by Sqürl, Jim Jarmusch’s band. It manages to be moody and atmospheric while also being able to drive the action – lots of wailing guitars and slow beats, giving the film a sort of timeless urgency.
Only Lovers Left Alive theatrical poster
I have to give big ups to Jarmusch for this film. Having seen ‘Dead Man’ and finding it beautiful but confusing, I was ready for this movie to be somewhat inaccessible, but I was pleasantly surprised as I let the film wash over me. The Marlowe as Shakespeare conspiracy theory is interesting, but probably not something I want to go in to here, I suspect it may have created some tension between Jarmusch and Hiddleston, who has very successfully performed Shakespeare (see also this post). I could be wrong, but the interview I mentioned before includes some interesting body language between them when the interviewer asks about the issue. It is a credit to everyone involved that with so much to work with and such talented people on hand the film is so restrained, so understated, and that this is one of the things which makes it so great.
Overall, it gave me some excellent food for thought. A poignant and thoughtful look at love, life, humanity, pleasure, despair and death. I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.
It’s been a while since I did one of these, so I thought I’d give it another whirl. Today’s film is the 1973 classic ‘Soylent Green‘. I saw this last night at the beautiful Astor Theatre in St Kilda. The Astor is a fantastic venue for exploring old movies in the format they were designed for – on the big screen.
Soylent Green theatrical poster
Going into ‘Soylent Green’ I knew the punch line; I suspect there wouldn’t be many people who don’t know it but I didn’t know the path of the narrative, having never read the book or read a synopsis. Based on the 1966 novel ‘Make Room! Make Room!‘ by Harry Harrison, the film follows Police Detective Frank Thorn as he investigates the death of a rich man in a dystopian future. Having destroyed the planet with pollution, overpopulation and global warming, humans fight for survival; unemployment is at 50%, food and water are rationed, almost everyone is desperate.
Depressingly, this future is now only eight years away*, and when I look at the issues this film explores I realise that we’ve been trying to get traction for the idea that we’re going to drive ourselves to extinction for a long time. This is probably one of the first man made dystopian future films made, paving the way for different versions as our scientific understanding changed; ‘Waterworld’, ‘The Day After Tomorrow’, and to a lesser extent ‘Children of Men’. As the threat of mutually assured destruction and nuclear holocaust in the Cold War died down, the idea that humans would destroy themselves gradually became more attractive. One might speculate that at least one of Harrison, director Richard Fleisher, or screenwriter Stanley Greenberg, were inspired by Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring‘ (1962) in this formulation of the future.
But back to the film. I’m finding it difficult to work out how I feel about it. Given that it’s over forty years old, the stylistic approach is very different to what we expect now, specifically the pacing was much slower than a disaster film nowadays. That’s not to say that they didn’t build suspense well. Throughout the film, there was a very minimal musical score, and in the last sequences there was almost silence as the hero discovered the truth. This silence was unusual, unnerving and really creepy.
For my money, the best actor here was Edward Robinson, who played Sol. I couldn’t get behind Charlton Heston’s Thorn, but Sol really spoke to me – a nostalgic man, broken by the desperation around him. I think it was probably the weird romance that occurred between Thorn and Shirl (Leigh Taylor-Young) that made it hard for me to get behind Thorn. It felt very unrealistic that she would just fall for a random stranger who burst into her life and stole her dead boss’s stuff. He also probably smelled terrible, every shot he was in he was sweating and he doesn’t have a shower because of water rationing. Yik!
The ending of the film also left me feeling dissatisfied. I wanted to know what was going to happen – without Soylent Green people would starve, but would they refuse to eat it when they knew what it was made from? How would the ingredients actually change the consumption, especially when people are starving. And how would Thorn survive given his injuries? Would he be able to get the message out anyway or would he be silenced? So many questions!
My overall feeling leaving the theatre was that of great unease. While relatively short, and relatively old, ‘Soylent Green pack a pretty big punch. It’s hard to rate it, but I’m going to give it 4 out of 5 stars. Certainly worth watching and definitely deserving of it’s cult/classic status.
*Although we have reached the seven billion global population that Harrison suggested.
It’s been three days since I watched Lars Von Trier’s ‘Nymphomaniac’ Vol I and II. It has taken me this long to work out what I want to say, and even so I’m just hoping I’ll be able to make some sort of coherent statement about it by the end of this post.
Nymphomaniac Vol I poster
These two films, shown back to back at the Cinema Nova in Carlton, ‘Nymphomaniac’ follow the story of Joe, played by Stacey Martin (Young Joe) and Charlotte Gainsbourg, after she is found by Seligman (Stellan Starsgard) bloodied and bruised, in an alley near his house. Tucked up in his bed Joe tells Seligman the story of her life, and about her struggles with her apparently insatiable desire. That’s basically the plot.
I was a Von Trier virgin before seeing this film, I’d seen a bit of ‘Antichrist’, probably only the opening sequence, and had never seen a whole film of his, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect.
I’ll start with the easy stuff; what I liked. Visually this film is gorgeous; not only is the cinematography (Manuel Alberto Claro) impeccable and beautifully constructed, but the use of split screen, text over the action, animation, weird bits of wildlife footage and various other digressions are masterful. One chapter of the narrative is shot in black and white, causing the whole episode to take on a surreal faraway aspect. In particular the overlay of a shot of hairless female genitals to a closed eyelid was lovely.
Secondly, the acting was astounding. There was a depth to the characters that you don’t/can’t often get, a genuine sense that what they’re showing you is real, sometimes painfully so – Christian Slater’s hospital scenes, Uma Thurman’s scorned woman, Stacey Martin and Charlotte Gainsbourg’s blank desperation, Jamie Bell’s sadistic care, I could go on. Shia LaBeouf’s Jerome and Stellan Starsgard’s Seligman while beautiful, were not stand outs for me in this parade of great performances. Perhaps I should be fair to them and admit I wasn’t particularly sympathetic to their characters and this may have coloured my impression of their performance.
Thirdly, there were aspects of the story which stood out for me as being particularly well handled; the chapter featuring Jamie Bell’s character K is a particularly interesting episode for reasons (spoilers) and the relationship between Joe and her father (Christian Slater) come to mind. The addition of Seligman’s obscure diversions I think also adds a sense of lightness to the film which would otherwise be lacking – a chance for us to catch our collective breath between the cocks and clits and wrechedness.
Fourthly, it is clear that Von Trier is a master of manipulation and suspense; in at least two scenes we were convinced that something absolutely terrible was going to happen and it never eventuates. The flip side of this is that when the bad thing does happen we’re completely blind-sided by it.
Nymphomaniac Vol II poster
Now we get to the parts I’m not so sure about and that is, to a greater or lesser extent, the statement the film is making. We are shown over the course of ‘Nymphomaniac’s’ four hours a number of controversial and/or ambiguous moral positions. The discussion of whether Joe’s prioritisation of pleasure over the care of her child and whether this would have been questioned had she been a man, and the discussion about whether a person with a sexual attraction to children who never acts on it is a good person for example. I feel like this film is supposed to provoke the viewer to think about their own attitudes to sexuality and it’s relationship to morality, but part of me wonders whether the bad thing that happens takes focus away from this by leaving you feeling like you’ve been kicked in the guts. Interestingly the bad thing could also be analysed at a potential statement, but spoilers.
I suspect that this is what all of Von Trier’s films are like; gauntlets of mind-fuckery that you have to run until you come out the other side changed. I think the question one really has to ask is am I changed for the better?
Nymphomaniac is a beautifully made, gut-wrenchingly intense cinematic journey which makes you question not only what just happened but whether you can ever look at people the same way again; whether your definition of right and wrong has been irrevocably altered.
I’m fairly sure I enjoyed it, much in the same way I can say that enjoyed ‘Shame’ or ‘Requiem for a Dream’. Definitely an experience to watch, and not a film I would recommend entering lightly, it should probably come with a trigger warning, all the trigger warnings. Overall, I think I’m going to agree with Margaret and David and give this film 3.5 out of 5 stars.
I haven’t done a Watching Movies post for a while, somehow life got in the way of taking myself to the cinema, but I thought I’d make up for it by seeing four films over two days. This post, therefore, will be short reviews of each of the four films, in the order that I saw them.
The Wind Rises (2013)
The first of this weekend’s celluloid dreams was Studio Ghibli’s latest offering ‘The Wind Rises’ at the Cinema Nova in Carlton. From director Hayao Miyazaki, whose other films include ‘Ponyo’, ‘Spirited Away’, and ‘My Neighbour Totoro’, ‘The Wind Rises’ is an animated feature which focuses on pre-WWII Japan. The film’s hero, Jiro Horikoshi is an aeronautical engineer who designs planes which will eventually be used by the Japanese as fighters, the Zero. Jiro and many of the other characters are historical figures, however my Japanese history is pretty sketchy so I just have to trust that the film is accurate-ish.
Miyazaki’s films often involve quite surreal sequences; high fantasy and exaggerated characters which work well in an animated film. While ‘The Wind Rises’ has a couple of dream sequences in which conventional reality takes a back seat, I was surprised by how much of the film was done as realism.
I chose to watch the English dubbed version, over the Japanese language version with subtitles for two reasons; firstly, dubbing jars much less in animated films because they don’t really talk anyway, and secondly, while there will be translation anomolies either way, one can get more words in a dubbed version than in a subtitled version and hopefully that results in a more faithful translation. That being said I’m also not a big fan of having to read the subtitles. The English voice cast was full of people who I recognised, which was also fun; Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Mandy Patinkin, John Krasinski, and Martin Short.
In terms of the plot, this film was a poignant exploration of the life of Jiro leading up to WWII (which is actually not mentioned in the film, but is implied). It was a very interesting portrait of the time period; Japan was quite poor, they were occupying Korea (also not mentioned in the film), it was an interesting time of cross over between traditional Japanese lifestyles and Western influences from clothing to aeronautical designs. Given the film’s time frame, I should have been ready for it to be a sad story, but having seen a couple of Miyazaki’s other films I was expecting it to be a light children’s story. It might be rated PG but I think this is a film made for adults. My friend said he managed to only cry a little bit, and I was very close to tears as well.
Beautifully drawn, in particular the backgrounds are spectacular, and beautifully written; there is surprisingly little dialogue, and it’s all important, this is a moving film well worth a watch. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.
Rear Window (1954)
The first Saturday night’s double feature at the Astor in St Kilda was ‘Rear Window’. A classic thriller from Alfred Hitchcock, this is the story of the L. B. Jeffries (Jeff), who is stuck in his apartment, in a wheelchair, with a broken leg for what feels like an eternity over a sweltering Manhattan summer. Pre-television, Jeff’s boredom leads him to spend his days watching his neighbours; his apartment faces the back, the rear windows, of several other apartment buildings. In one of these buildings, he sees some suspicious activity and we follow his story as he tries to convince his friends and the police that he’s not just a paranoid curtain twitcher.
To make this film, Hitchcock built all of the apartments on a sound stage. Each apartments has actors playing the inhabitants and they were all given activities to perform. The whole thing seems to have been run more like a play than a film; in particular some of the opening shots are of the camera, set in Jeff’s apartment, panning over each of the apartments giving us a glimpse into the life of the people living there.
Based on a short story, ‘It had to be murder’ by Cornell Woolrich, ‘Rear Window’ has been spoofed and references many, many times. I went into the film without knowing the ending, but assuming it would be similar to ‘The Simpson’s’ version; which it was and wasn’t at the same time.
Despite having been made 60 years ago, the film was suspenseful, and believable. Some of the cinematography dated it a little, particularly the heavy use of soft focus for Grace Kelly, and some of the attitudes and pass-times of the characters placed it at the time, but generally speaking it could easily have been made recently. I did notice the age difference between Stewart, 46, and Kelly, 25, but unfortunately that hasn’t really changed all that much.
All in all, I can certainly see why this film has had such a profound impact on popular culture and is considered a classic. I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Rear Window poster
The second of the Astor’s double feature was ‘Vertigo’ – another Hitchcock film starting James Stewart. This psychological thriller makes ‘Rear Window’ seem like a comedy – it is much darker, and without giving away spoilers, the ending is horribly unsatisfactory. In this film, James Stewart plays a retired police detective who suffers from acrophobia, fear of heights, and gets vertigo, dizziness, whenever he’s somewhere high.
The opening titles of ‘Vertigo’ are a distinctive sequence of receding and advancing spirals. It’s a visual that stays with you and has a certain similarities to a Bond film opening (although with the first Bond film in 1962, ‘Vertigo’ was probably an influence on Bond, rather than the other way around).
Based on a novel, ‘D’entre les morts’, a French crime story by Pierre Boileau, Stewart’s character ‘Scottie’, John Ferguson, is hired to investigate the strange behaviour of the wife of an old college buddy. As the investigation progresses, Scottie falls in love with the woman, played by Kim Novak, and that’s about all I can tell you without spoilers.
Again there are a few interesting gender issues in this film; specifically Kim Novak is also 25 in this film, but Stewart is now 50. Additionally Scottie’s friend Midge is an interesting portrait – a woman who is in love with him, but she seems to be too ambitious, or capable, or career driven, or not pretty enough for Scottie to notice. She’s also supposed to be a college buddy, but actor Barbara Bel Gedes is only 36 and doesn’t quite pull off the concept of being the same age.
The film’s ending is unexpected and not a little distressing. I would be extremely surprised if an ending like that made it past a test screening nowadays! It speaks to Hitchcock’s influence in the industry and to the changing expectations and tolerances of the movie-going public.
Despite the unusual ending and consistently dark tone, this is another classic well worth watching. I’m giving this one 4 out of 5 stars (I dropped it from 4.5 for being a bit long and having an annoying ending).
Die Besucher (Visitors, 2012)
The final film in this epic weekend was ‘Die Besucher’, a German film, which I saw as part of the Goethe Institut Festival of German Films at the Palace Como in South Yarra. The film follows a family as the patriarch, Jakob, tries to break some news that will have an impact on all their lives. The three adult children, Karla, Arnolt, and Sonja, live in Berlin away from the family home in rural Germany. The younger two of the three are still heavily financially dependent on their parents.
This is a character driven film, much more than a plot driven one. The film quietly explores the unspoken conflicts between the six members of this family. Directed by Constanze Knoche, and co-written with Lies Bagdach, this film was made with a very modest budget. They spent several years working on the screenplay and getting the funds together to make the film. It would be easy to assume from watching this, that it was a big budget studio production; the acting is first rate, particularly from Uwe Kockisch who is a prolific and well-respected German actor, the screen-play is extremely tight, each moment of dialogue or silence is perfectly crafted to carry forward the character exploration. It has also been made with high production values, that is to say the the cinematography, sound recording and soundtrack, bear none of the dodgey hallmarks one might associated with a low-budget feature.
My biggest complaint about this film is the ambiguity and apparent tidiness of the ending. To me, it felt like the characters forgave too quickly and the reconciliation seemed unrealistic, however my friend disagreed with my interpretation and didn’t think there was a reconciliation. I can see how both interpretations could be correct. I think there was a part of me that identified strongly with a family whose conflict is unspoken, and so perhaps I was more appalled by the ability to forgive and forget than she was.
Overall a lovingly crafted film which left both of us feeling quite unsettled. It’s not an easy film to watch for reason’s I can’t quite put my finger on. Perhaps it’s the result of a built up of tension over the 90 minutes which does not have a satisfactory release. Even so, this film deserves 4 out of 5 stars.
Unfortunately I can’t find a trailer with subtitles, but this should give you a feel for it:
Ok, so I should probably admit right off that this only barely counts as a movie; it was the National Theatre Live’s recording of ‘Coriolanus‘. This was staged as a play in the Donmar Warehouse in London, filmed, and shown at the Nova.
‘Coriolanus’ is one of Shakespeare’s lesser known plays, and is a political thriller set in very early ancient Rome. Caius Martius Coriolanus (Tom Hiddleston) is a decorated and accomplished soldier in the Roman army, and a bit of an asshat. Menenius (Mark Gatiss) and his mother, Volumnia (Deborah Findlay) try to have Coriolanus elected as a Consul, but it all goes a bit awry because Coriolanus has to be himself; he can’t play the political game.
It has been said that this is Shakespeare’s bloodiest play and one of the most visceral; that is talks about the body the most. There’s lots of fighting, and this production uses lots and lots of fake blood (side note: Tom Hiddleston covered in fake blood is thoroughly enjoyable). Part of me feels like I missed out a bit on the experience of seeing it live, and this is largely influenced by the amount of shouting that happened. There is something intense about being in a room with someone who is screaming their hatred that cannot be captured on film, not least because when you record something you fiddle with the levels; you make the whispering louder so it can be heard, and you make the shouting softer so that it doesn’t blow our eardrums/speakers. Having seen another play in the flesh the night before in which the cast were about five metres away and their shouting was honestly frightening, I wanted to have the same reaction to ‘Coriolanus’ but just couldn’t.
Now, that’s not to say that it wasn’t an outstanding experience. The play seems to have been written as almost exclusively darkness, and though Shakespeare wrote in a couple of gags, the cast were able to bring in bit more levity with some sarcastic tones, and the best of these were delivered by Menenius – who takes on the role of the fool for part of the play. I’ve been a big fan of Mark Gatiss’s work for a while, not least because of his roles in ‘Sherlock’, but I hadn’t realised the depth of this acting ability until this production. Not only does he do some excellent shouting, he also does some excellent crying.
On the other hand the main women in this production, Volumnia and Virgilia (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen), Coriolanus’s mother and wife respectively, were less than extraordinary. I mean they were good, but Deborah Findlay became a bit much in her shouty bits, I think she needed a little bit more light and shade. Sørensen (who you might know from Borgen) seemed to spend and awful lot of her time weeping in a bit of a pathetic way and I think a bit less crying at the start might have made the crying she did at the end more effective.
In the title role, Tom Hiddleston was epic. He was brutal, he was callous, he was a total bastard toward his fellow Romans, but he was also completely convinced that he was right. I think it would be hard to play a role that is this close to grotesque without making a mockery of it. Hiddleston also did some very good light and shade in his shouting bits and, without giving away any spoilers, was really good at the end.
All of the cast did a great job with the language, Shakespeare can be a bit dense sometimes and I will readily admit that I missed a fair chunk of it, but there was never a moment in which I didn’t know what was happening. Not one tripped over their words or made their part sound like a foreign language (which it kind of is, especially for Sørensen who’s Danish).
In terms of the production itself the space at the Donmar Warehouse is quite unusual so they made a conscious decision to keep the props and backdrops to a minimum. I think the bareness of the setting made the acting seem that little bit more other-worldly; that little bit more impressive.
I don’t really know what else I can add except that if you get a chance to see this film, you should definitely go! I am going to give this 4.5 out of 5 stars, with the caveat that if I had seen it for realsies, it think it would have been a 5.
So, everyone is talking about how thin Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto got for ‘Dallas Buyers Club’. Having won a double pass to see the film I took myself and a friend to the Palace Westgarth yesterday to see for myself whether there was more to this film than that everyone was really thin. We chose the Westgarth for two reasons. Firstly we hadn’t been there for a while, and secondly, because it a beautifully restored Art Deco era cinema in the lovely suburb of Northcote.
Dallas Buyers Club: Dare to Live
The film is, according to the poster, inspired by the life of Ron Woodroof, a Dallas electrician who is diagnosed with HIV and AIDS in 1985. Ron wakes up in hospital and is given 30 days to live, and true to his bullheaded personality, he decides that dying is not in his schedule. From there we follow him as he sources medication from outside the US to treat himself and fellow HIV/AIDS sufferers, distributing them through the Dallas Buyers Club, and in the process becomes somewhat of an accidental activist.
It has to be said that the most noticeable feature of the film is McConaughey and Leto’s weight loss. It’s impossible to look at either of them without thinking they look unwell. There are numerous shots put into the film specifically to emphasise the point; thin legs under hospital gowns, protruding ribs, gaunt faces, and ill-fitting clothes. I have a lot of respect for the physical transformations that these two actors underwent, I’m not sure I could manage to stick to something like that.
In the beginning of the film, I didn’t like Ron. He’s racist, homophobic, sexist, a swindler and a generally unpleasant man. Through the course of the film we watch as Ron comes to terms with his own mortality, we watch him struggle to educate himself on what it means to have HIV/AIDS, to research treatments and to aggressively pursue every avenue he can to get himself more life. We also watch as he overcomes some of his prejudices to become good friends with Rayon (Leto), along with a number of gay men and other HIV/AIDS sufferers. By the end of the film we see the good in Ron, the humanity, the care. He becomes that big brother who will call you all sorts of names, who will bully and boss you around, but if anyone else tries it, he will defend you with everything he’s got. McConaughey skilfully portrays the conflict between Ron’s fear, sadness, despair and grief, and his inability to express any of it. Ron deals with difficult emotions by drinking, then crying; raw, ugly, uncomfortable, vulnerable crying. It’s definitely one McConaughey’s strongest and deepest performances.
Still: Ron and Rayon talk business.
Jared Leto, as Rayon, Ron’s unlikely business partner, and Jennifer Garner, as Dr. Eve Saks, one of the only American doctors Ron trusts, and as his unrealised love interest, play off each other and McConaughey to create a believable and layered world for Ron to inhabit.
I’m not usually a bio-pic watcher, and as such perhaps I came in with unrealistic expectations. There was something about the film that left me feeling a bit flat. The ending, predictably, is that Ron Woodroof dies. Undoubtedly, he was a fascinating man, and the story of HIV/AIDS sufferers and their struggle to get access to drugs they needed to survive around various FDA (Food and Drug Administration) restrictions is a story that needs to be told, but it just felt unresolved somehow. I suspect this is more to do with the script (Melissa Wallack and Craig Borten) than with the performances.
The director, Jean-Marc Vallee, is Quebecois and has several films under his belt, according to IMDb, but I’m not familiar with any of them. ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ was realised effectively, the acting performances were subtle and emotionally fragile, and in this respect it is clear the Vallee has done a good job releasing the strong performances from his cast and crew.
Overall, while well produced and acted, the film is not particularly memorable; it had all of the required elements, but seems to have fallen a short of excellent. I’m giving it 3.5 out of 5 stars.
I don’t know about you, but I enter competitions for things under the assumption that I’ll never win. That assumption has been severely challenged the last week as I’ve won movie passes twice! One is for Dallas Buyers Club (so I’ll be reviewing that in the next week or so, yay!) and the other was for Flickerfest.
Flickerfest is an Australian short film competition held in Sydney, currently in is 23rd year, that is internationally recognised. It offers an opportunity for Australian, and international, film makers to have their work acknowledged and screened (and there’s a bit of prize money too).
So I entered a competition for tickets to Flickerfest, through the SBS e-newsletter, and I won a double pass to the Melbourne programme night, which featured some of the best entries in competition this year. The ‘Made in Melbourne’ programme comprised nine short films, the full programme and a bit about each film can be found here.
I’m not going to attempt to thoroughly review each one, just to give a brief comment on the few that stood out for me.
Still: We Keep on Dancing
The first film of the set, ‘We Keep on Dancing’, was the highlight of the programme for me. Sure it had a primacy effect, being first, and perhaps it was chosen for that reason, but that wasn’t all. The story is a heart-warming comedy about a guy who’s car breaks down and the mechanics who help him out. The acting was nuanced, believable, and comedic and the film comes together into a nice, neat package. There was nothing about this short that made me think it was amateur and it has stuck with me in the days since seeing it.
Still: The Kingdom of Doug
At the other end of the spectrum was ‘The Kingdom of Doug’: a dark drama about Doug, a cult leader, and his followers. From the very first moment of the film Doug is creepy. At first I wondered if I was reading too much into it, that I was just hyper sensitised to find religious leaders and gurus predatory. As the story progressed, however, what started as mild discomfort with Doug developed into a powerful feeling of revulsion. I commend the film makers for going with a project that is so heavy and so unrelentingly dark for a short film. I would find it difficult to tell such a intense story in such a short time.
The other two films that I’ll just briefly mention were ‘Aboriginal Heart’, a comedy about a white doctor who comes to a remote outback community and has some difficulty with the local indigenous artists. The phrase ‘stupid white fella’ comes to mind. The second one that deserves a quick mention is ‘Off Course’, a black comedy about two guys who help a third guy get home one night.
Now, I just want to touch briefly on some gender stuff here. I don’t want what I’m about to say to be taken as an attack on any of the film makers individually, but to be read as a comment on my perception of the up-and-coming film industry.
There were a lot of men in these stories. Of the nine shorts, only one had a female lead character. Of the remaining eight films, three were of the form ‘two guys bond over some obstacle’. There was the reluctant journey, the estranged son (in which the female character is literally the obstacle), and the unlikely friendship. Sitting in the cinema I found myself increasingly irritated by the repeated offerings of male stories, told by men, about men. We need to do better.
On the other hand I was pleased at the indigenous representation in the films on the programme, and some quick research reveals that, of the two with indigenous characters, one was made by an indigenous production company.
Overall, I left the night feeling inspired to go out and start making my contribution to the independent film industry. Just one more thing to add to the list of things I want to do; another goal to work towards. Look out Flickerfest, I’m coming for you!
Last night I saw American Hustle at the Jam Factory in South Yarra, Melbourne. The film is based, admittedly fairly loosely, on events surrounding an FBI operation called AbScam in the late seventies. The basic premise is that the FBI use two con artists in an attempt to bring down some of the less savoury types in charge of New Jersey.
American Hustle Poster
The first thing I noticed about the film was the opening titles; the were done with a grainy finish which was reminiscent of the period; you remember those dodgey orangey-gold letters announcing the names of the production companies. It effectively set the tone for the rest of the film, which is painstakingly, and in places uncomfortably, seventies.
After the credits, the opening scene focuses on Christian Bale’s character, Irving Rosenfeld, buttoning his shirt over his swollen gut and fixing his hair; a comb-over that is referred to variously as ‘ridiculous’ and ‘elaborate’. Maybe it says more about me, but it was very reminiscent of the opening sequence of ‘American Psycho’, in which we see Bale going through a similarly thorough grooming routine. Rosenfeld is not a particularly lovable character, flawed as most of the characters in this film are flawed, but we see him through the eyes of people around him who respect and love him, and we start to identify with him, to root for him, as the American’s would say.
Rosenfeld has two women in his life, his wife Rosalyn Rosenfeld (Jennifer Lawrence) and his girlfriend and partner in crime, Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). He clearly cares deeply for both of them; they are both complex, and they both manipulate him. Rosalyn is a deeply troubled and obstinately clueless woman who got Irving to marry her and adopt her son, for whom he has a truly caring and genuine affection. Sydney, who he met at a party, comes from a difficult background, is a skilled actress, and is Irving’s match in all aspects of their lives.
Then we have my favourite character, Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), a young, headstrong FBI Agent who ropes Irving and Sydney into working for him. Whether it’s terrible hair, the Tony Manero outfits or the blind passion for his job that makes me sympathise with him I’m not sure, but I felt like he was an underrated character, particularly in the esteem of the other characters. I can’t really say any more about why without spoilers, but he was my favourite. If I’m honest the chemistry between him and Edith probably helped a lot – it was seriously hot.
Still: Sydney and Richie head out on the town
Directed and co-written by David O. Russell, whose other work includes ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ which I enjoyed immensely, the film keeps up the tension all the way through. The supporting actors, including Louis C.K. And Robert De Niro, delivered consistently high-quality performances and I put this down to Russell’s directorial ability (not to disregard their acting chops though!). The film had a unified feel and flowed comfortably, there was no point where I was unsure about the inclusion of a scene. I noticed part way though that most of the scenes were unscored, that is to say they had no music, it was just silence and dialogue. It struck me as feeling a bit naked, but this surely was intentional, and added a feeling of isolation to the main characters.
Visually and tonally this film was rich and detailed; lots of brown, lots of patterns, lots of awful hair, and mirrors and man-bling and chest hair. It would have been very easy for these details to become comical, but I think art direction and cinematography (Jesse Rosenthal and Linus Sandgren respectively) worked together to create a believable world of excess without making fun of it.
I enjoyed this film very much, in particular the relationship to the real historical crime figures I’d studied last year at uni in the world of organised crime; specifically Meyer Lansky, Accountant to the Mob and associate of Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano along with the fictionalised versions of others.
This film is billed as a crime-comedy-drama, and I agree it is a fairly light hearted treatment of the material. For me was a sort of easy-listening version of a crime-thriller and I think it sat well in that space. I give this film 4 out of 5 stars; genuinely enjoyable and thoroughly well made.
Today’s movie review will be of ‘August: Osage County’, an intense drama about the difficulties of living in the Weston family. Written by Tracy Letts, based on his Pulizter and Tony Award winning play of the same name, this story follows the relationships in the highly dysfunctional family as they try to deal with the death of its patriarch, Beverly.
August: Osage County poster
From the outset this film is confronting. The women in this family, Violet (Meryl Streep), Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale), Barbara (Julia Roberts), Karen (Juliette Lewis), Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) and Jean (Abigail Breslin) are complicated, flawed, and extremely believable. While the film is an excellent ensemble piece, the mother-daughter relationship between Violet and Barbara is the centrepiece. Violet is a mean-spirited, bitter woman who has a tendency to abuse prescription medication, and Barbara, her eldest daughter struggles with a sense of obligation to care for her mother, and a need to escape her destructive influence. Trying to explain the intricacies of the relationships without giving away some of the story is going to be difficult, so I’m not going to try. Suffice to say that the relationships between the family members are complex and filled with betrayals and misery.
The performances by each member of the cast are spectacular. With so many central characters, each with rich back stories filled with hardship, it’s hard to pick one or two who stood out. What makes this more difficult is that each actor’s performance is as reliant on the way they react to the actions of the others as with their own actions, something which is a basic tenet of acting, but which is rarely seen so clearly on the screen.
The men in the film, Beverly (Sam Shepard), Charlie (Chris Cooper), Bill (Ewan McGregor), Steve (Dermot Mulroney) and Little Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch), are shown largely as counterpoints to the Weston women, and each gives a beautiful, nuanced performance. The stand out relationship among the men is between Charlie and his son Little Charles; there is a tenderness there that doesn’t exist in any of the other relationships, and this contrast makes it all the more striking.
Throughout the film the script writing struck me as being incredibly tight. Each scene was carefully crafted to add tension to the film, and while the events in this family are extreme, there was no point at which I found myself disbelieving them. I did find it interesting that in a film that is built upon difficult familial relations, the romance between Ivy and Little Charles (who are first cousins), which remains a secret for the majority of the film, is never overtly shown. The furthest they get is hand holding and making moon eyes when they think no one is looking. I find it intriguing that the producers chose not to show a kiss, it’s likely they were worried it would be too much for the audience, but for me it seemed a bit contrived (or maybe I’m just a perv for kissin’ cousins). Not having seen a stage production, I would be interested to know whether or not they kiss there.
All the family around the dinner table
Visually, the tone of the film is heavily in the brown spectrum. The house is dark and brown, the rolling Oklahoma fields are yellow and dry; even the costumes are browns, beiges, muted blues, and blacks. Nothing escapes the oppressive pallet except Steve’s bright red sports car. The use of colour is particularly strong in evoking the feel of the house in which most of the film takes place, and in conveying the stifling heat of an Oklahoma summer. At one stage we see a neon sign telling us it’s 108˚ (Fahrenheit, in Celsius that’s 42˚, a temperature which for us Melbournians is still a fresh trauma).
If I were to criticise the film it would be to say that I was disappointed with Benedict Cumberbatch’s American accent. Some of you may understand how difficult that is for me to say given how much of a ridiculous uber-fan of his work I am, but I say it with love, I say it because I know he can do better (case in point his Australian accent as Julian Assange). If I were to justify this less than his best performance I would suggest that given the size of his role, fairly small, and the amount of screen time he has to spend crying, disproportionately large, the fact that his accent is passable, but not brilliant is probably fair enough.
My overall impression of this multiply nominated film (Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, both well deserved) is that it manages to balance serious, hard truths about life in this family with some black comic moments and the result is a thought provoking yet enjoyable cinematic experience. I was left wondering how they all got on after the end; I wanted to know what happened next, which is always a good sign that you’ve identified with the characters. I think a lot of the patrons at the Cinema Nova where I saw this walked out feeling much better about the interesting family scandals in their own lives. A thought provoking, authentic exploration of family dysfunction; I give this film 4 out of 5 stars.