Thursday, 29 January 2015
‘I love your wall.’ No, I love your wall. And I love your big, freaky head and your crazy songs. You’re awesome Frank. When I was a kid, there was a television character called Frank Sidebottom. He had a broad Northern accent and he would play the banjo and he would conduct interviews in his shed. He also had a huge papier mache mask. It was incredibly weird and cartoonish. The eyes kind of looked like something out of an anime and the hair looked like it was coloured in with felt pen. It was incredibly bizarre and I didn’t quite understand it. I hadn’t thought about Frank for several years and then he turned up in the movie Filth. James McAvoy’s character imitates Frank Sidebottom when making dirty phone calls to the wife of a friend. And then, weirdly enough, Frank got his own film. It was amazing to me that Michael Fassbender got cast as Frank. Fassbender is a massive sex symbol and Frank is, well, a freak. A kindly, well intentioned freak, but a freak nonetheless. The Frank in this movie deviates from the previous incarnation, in that he’s an American and he’s the leader of an experimental synth band. Gone is the broad Northern accent and the banjo, but it doesn’t matter. This movie is lots and lots of fun. The story centers around Jon (Domhall Gleeson), a young, aspiring songwriter. The movie begins with the protagonist desperately trying to write a song. His lyrics describe the things that he sees as he walks around, and the song is pretty terrible. We then see him struggling in his room to write melodies. Just as he thinks he’s stumbled upon something great, he realises that he’s playing a Madness song. This is a kid that hasn’t found his creative voice yet and who is desperately lacking inspiration. One day, as Jon is hanging out near the beach, he sees a man trying to drown himself. It turns out that the man is a keyboard player for a band that’s in town. Jon ends up talking to one of the band members and before he knows it, he’s invited to play keyboards for a gig that night. The gig is suitably weird. Jon turns up with the show already beginning and with an empty keyboard waiting. Frank then walks out, slapping a cymbal as he strides in (a little detail that cracked me up) and then proceeds to sing a song about soup. Jon kind of stares in disbelief but then begins to get into it, the allure of the bright lights too much for him to resist. Finally he belongs to something. Well, kind of. Even though Jon loves being part of the band, he faces hostility from most of the members. There are two French players who basically ignore him and then there’s Clara (Maggie Gylenhaal), the theremin player, who’s openly hostile. They know that this guy has no place in the band, that’s he’s just some sad guy desperate to belong to something, desperate for fame, but innocent Frank only sees goodness in him. Have I mentioned yet that Frank never takes his mask off, no matter what? Yep, no matter what he does, he keeps it on. There’s one hilarious moment when Jon, who’s desperate to see Frank without his mask, goes into Frank’s room and sees the mask on the floor. Finally, I’m going to see what he really looks like, you can imagine him saying to himself. He then goes into the bathroom and is confronted with the sight of Frank showering with a plastic bag on his head. He’s wearing another mask. He has multiples. At first you think that the band are being unnecessarily mean to Jon, but as the film progresses, you begin to realise that he’s the poisonous element of the group. He posts videos of the band on YouTube, he blogs and he tweets. This social media presence is meant to promote the band, but it ends up turning them into a joke. And Jon is all too willing to capitalise on this. After completing an album, the band travels to America for a music festival. Frank can’t handle his newfound fame and the group disintegrates. Eventually only Frank and Jon remain. Frank is a nervous wreck but Jon drags him onto the stage and they end up performing a song that Jon wrote. At the beginning of the performance, Jon states that it’s the greatest day of his life but it quickly turns into a nightmare, as Frank collapses on the stage, mumbling that the music is shit. Some people have criticised the final act of the film but I think it’s excellent. Jon is a hack and fame hungry. He isn’t a bad guy per se, but he doesn’t fully understand the consequences of his actions. Frank’s band isn’t so much about the music. It’s a way for this damaged individual to retain some measure of sanity (or at least to release his insanity). All of the other band members are there helping him. They realise that Frank is the center and they don’t try and disturb their orbit around him. But then Jon comes along, thinking that he can share the limelight and propel them to some measure of fame. This lunatic asylum is never meant to become famous. And so Clara, who for so long seems like the meanest bitch in the universe, comes out really as the hero. All along she’s trying to protect Frank. She can see through Jon. She knows that he has stars in his eyes and that he has the potential to destroy them all. One of the funniest scenes is when Frank decides to preview a new song he’s written. Under the influence of Jon, he decides to write his most ‘likeable song ever’. With a crazy dance beat and an ear-piercing falsetto he proceeds to sing a song about Coca-Cola, lipstick and kissing. Clara, in complete deadpan, tells Frank that yes indeed, it is his most likeable song ever. In other words, he’s completely sold out and has produced a bag of shite. After the failed festival performance, Jon and Frank hole up in a motel. They get into an argument and Jon tries to rip his mask off. It’s further evidence of what a reprehensible person Jon is. The rest of the band are content to let Frank just be Frank. But Jon wants to see the ‘real’ Frank and selfishly tries to expose him in order to satisfy his own curiosity. Frank then runs out of the motel and gets run over, his mask shattering in the process. We do eventually get to see Frank without his mask. He’s a completely broken person, his hair patchy and bald in places because of the mask rubbing against his head. He looks completely lost. But he comes to life at the end when Jon reunites him with his band. Jon’s final shot at redemption is to take Frank to a hick bar where his old band is performing. Clara is warbling some terribly depressing tune but then Frank turns up. At first she doesn’t recognise him but then it dawns on her who he is. He begins to improvise a tune and Clara returns to her familiar place on the theremin. The band quickly get into the song and begin rocking out. And the final song is actually really good. Frank sings about everything he loves and you can’t help but feel that this is a love song to his band. They’re his therapy, his meaning, his life. They’re all back together, the familiar pieces back in place. This is the way it should have been all along and it’s completely appropriate that Jon returns back to obscurity. But who knows what lies in store for Frank’s band. They’re not built for success but this last song is actually really good and completely heartfelt. The ending is actually really moving. Maybe they’ll have some success despite themselves.
Friday, 23 January 2015
Having been disappointed by 2014’s most critically acclaimed film, Boyhood, I decided to give 2014’s highest grossing movie a chance. Surely I can’t go wrong here. Everyone loves Guardians of the Galaxy. This is going to be loads of fun, isn’t it? Sadly, I was wrong. This is a painfully ordinary movie. Pedestrian action scenes, plodding screenplay and mediocre direction. Starved as we are for fresh, inventive summer blockbusters, I can understand the willingness to pounce on anything that rises above the mediocre standards set by this rather moribund industry, but Guardians of the Galaxy is not a film to get excited about. It offers nothing that we haven’t seen before and nothing that hasn’t been done better countless times. Want a sci-fi soap opera western? Watch Star Wars. Want a wisecracking hero? Watch Indiana Jones. Want a gang of colourful heroes? Watch The Great Escape or The Magnificent Seven. What makes this extra disappointing is that the film starts so strongly. The film begins with Peter Quill as a child. His mother is on her deathbed and he’s listening to some 10cc on his Walkman. It’s incredibly sad and moving, and they manage to film it in such a way that it resembles a Spielberg film from the 70s. But then Peter gets kidnapped by aliens and we’re thrust into mediocrity. The film is just incredibly disjointed and random. Like so many action and adventure films these days, they’re impatient. Everything has to move at a hundred miles an hour. They never take the time to set up situations and characters correctly. I watched Guardians and it was just like *random shit, random shit, wisecrack, random shit, random shit, action scene*. How about, you know, a story? And really, the MacGuffin in this film is some round thing? And the bad guys are armour-plated aliens with blue faces? In The Avengers the MacGuffin was a square thing and the bad guys were amour-plated aliens with skeleton-like faces. Nice to see that Marvel is awash with fresh ideas. What’s next? Are we going to have a triangle MacGuffin and are the bad guys going to be amour-plated aliens with red skeleton faces? Yeah, that’s stupid, Captain America already has the red skeleton thing covered. Maybe I’m just a joyless, miserable bastard. Everyone else also loved The Avengers, while I thought it was terrible. But no, I refuse to believe that I’m the problem here. Just because other people have lowered their standards beyond all recognition, doesn’t mean that I have to. How can you aspire to create a compelling adventure film when you have some of the dullest villains ever seen in a movie? A film like this lives and breathes with its villains. A hero is only as good as his/her adversary. The villain here is a roided, blue alien dude. He doesn’t say anything interesting. He doesn’t say anything cool or scary. He doesn’t kill people in frightening/amusing ways. He doesn’t have any witty banter or one liners. He’s just like a guy from The Blue Man Group who’s gone seriously rogue and has taken far too much whey supplement. He probably has teeny, weeny testicles and is doomed to overcompensate on a cosmic scale. The best character, by a country mile, is Groot. Who would have thought that Vin Diesel as an intergalactic Hodor would be the best thing about this blockbuster? But weirdly enough, Groot, the alien Hodor tree, is the most rounded, most human, most selfless character in the movie. He even gives his life for his friends. In one of the best scenes in the film, he wraps his friends in a cocoon to protect them, taking his own life in the process. It’s a great scene. There’s also another great moment when Groot saves his friends by taking out a bunch of guys with his branches/arms. Groot drives his limbs through his adversaries and then batters them against the wall like rag dolls. Once they’re defeated, he turns around and gives his friends a big, goofy grin. It’s another excellent moment. However, even with Groot the film has a touch of randomness about it. His powers are never truly explained and it’s only when he’s saving his friends with his cocoon that you’re told that this will kill him. Again it leaves you with the impression that things are being made up as they go along. But there’s actually some pretty genuine pathos when Groot is killed and Rocket is sobbing into a handful of branches. For that, for having a character you genuinely care about, the film deserves some credit. It gets nothing from me, though, for the fearsomely dull action sequences towards the end. We’re not quite in Avengers territory where you have a forty minute action scene with flying space turtles and millions of people dying bloodless deaths offscreen in a citywide rampage, but it’s almost as dreary. Really, these big space battles and citywide assaults haven’t excited me for a long, long time. Pixels get destroyed, stuff goes kaboom and everyone gets on with their lives. None of these big Marvel action sequences have any flavor. They all feel incredibly bland. I’d rather watch the crazy father versus son fight in Hulk than this. And that film is still a lot better than anything Marvel has produced since.
Saturday, 10 January 2015
Boyhood is a horribly depressing film; a film with an amazing concept that fails to deliver in every regard. Shot over the course of twelve years, we get to follow a boy as he becomes a man. The movie begins with him as a six-year-old and culminates when he begins college. But while there is all the potential in the world for an amazing statement on childhood and growing up, we end with a curiously cold and detached movie. A film that never gets into the head of its protagonist and which simply feels like it’s going through the motions. It’s kind of the polar opposite of Linklater’s Before movies. In those films, we really feel like we get to know the characters. We feel close to them. But I didn’t feel that here. Everything felt very facile. Maybe the Before movies benefit from having their characters locked down for each film. We get to spend a single day with them - you could call it ‘quality time’. But here a single year can pass in the course of one ten minute scene. It just isn’t particularly satisfying. Children change at an enormous pace, but because the film is basically a highlight reel, all we really notice is the growing body and the different haircuts. Forget about this being anything like Michael Apted’s Up series. You’re not going to have a fillet mignon to sink your teeth into. You’re not going to get into the child’s head and hear his hopes and dreams. Instead you’re going to get a pack of Doritos to nibble on. And it’s one of those massive packs that when you open it, it’s mostly filled with air. We’re told at the beginning, when Mason is a young child and just starting school, that he spends all his time staring out of the window, hinting that he’s something of dreamer. But we never see this. I don’t want to be told that Mason’s a dreamer. I want to see it. Children and teenagers, contrary to some of Hollywood’s precocious examples, aren’t really very good at expressing themselves verbally. The most interesting thing about them is their inner life. This is something that is usually best captured visually. But this is a meat and potatoes kind of film. It’s incredibly unlyrical. Not that the dialogue is anything to get excited about. Mason mumbles and grumbles but aside from the odd moment here and there everything is purely functional. There’s a fairly insightful scene when Mason bemoans our collective addiction to cell phones and how we view everything through a screen, but this kind of commentary is hardly the norm. Not that I really want the film to be three hours of social commentary. But I do want to feel close to the lead, which I didn’t at all. Even more disappointing than Mason’s role is that of his mother, played by Patricia Arquette. Her role must be one of the most thankless female roles in recent years. All she seems to do is sit at a table and pay bills. Plus Arquette’s acting is mediocre at best. She’s cold, detached, humourless and unemotive. In one scene she encourages a Mexican laborer to go back to school. When years later they encounter one another and he tells her that her words inspired him, you’d think that she was listening to the weather forecast. It kind of takes the piss that Ethan Hawke gets a much better role as the kids’ father. Separated from their mother, he just gets to sweep in every now and again and hang out with them. He can be the ‘cool’ one. He can have fun with them and take them bowling, to baseball games and go camping. Meanwhile I don’t recall one, single scene where the mother has any fun with her kids. Almost all of her scenes are completely joyless. I understand that she has the day-to-day hard work and drudgery to deal with, while the father can just saunter in, but the mother is a tiresome presence. She’s a grouch, a nag and, in the end, hysterical. When Mason finally goes to college, and Mason’s mother is confronted with an empty nest, she has a kind of meltdown. She complains about time going so fast and having nothing to show for herself. She also says that in another forty years she’ll be dead. It’s a hysterical reaction but it feels authentic enough. It’s a big thing when your kids move away. It’s normal to go through a crisis. But again I kind of feel like the film is doing mothers a disservice. The movie falls into the cliches of women being hysterical and unreasonable, and of them being victims. Seeing as Mason’s mother is cast as a victim here, she gets to marry not one but two alcoholics. The first one provides some of the only drama in the movie. At first he seems like a decent guy, but then he begins to indulge in some secret drinking and all of a sudden we have a monster on our hands. Again, because we’re in such a rush to get through the years, it seems like he turns into an alcoholic overnight. It also doesn’t help that the stepfather’s acting is ridiculously broad. He’s a leering, gurning, obnoxious buffoon. But at least, when he’s on the screen, something happens. There’s one scene where the stepfather forces Mason to have his long locks shorn off. It’s pretty brutal in its assholery. But how does Mason’s mother react to this hair rape of her young son? She just kind of says...sorry. Oh, and for a couple of years when Mason’s stepfather is being a gigantic dickhead, she’s sitting at the table, paying bills. She seems to spend years at a time in a coma. Mason’s mother eventually leaves this tosser when he begins beating her and we have the excitement of her rescuing her children from his clutches, but this story arc ends up leaving you with more questions than answers. The stepfather had kids of his own. What happened to Mason’s step brother and step sister? Does he keep in any sort of contact? Does he ever see them again? The second asshole alcoholic stepfather is far more rudimentary. Mason’s mother marries some soldier. In his very first scene I thought that something was wrong with him. He’s been in the Iraq war and he seems to be hiding some kind of deep trauma. But Mason’s mother marries him and before you know it, he’s questioning Mason’s sexuality and he’s supping from cans of beer. But then as quickly as he appears, he’s gone. Why exactly did Mason’s mother leave him? He was turning into a bit of a morose prick, but he hadn’t done anything like the first stepfather. But once again he’s neatly swept under the rug. Of course the talk now is of Boyhood vying for Oscars. If it did, it wouldn’t be a crime on the scale of Crash and Forrest Gump, but it’s most certainly not a worthy movie. Having the balls to film a movie over the span of twelve years is not enough to warrant critical acclaim. A great concept is nothing without great execution. The idea here is superb but the delivery is sorely lacking. No drama, no emotion, no insight, poor acting and ordinary writing are a recipe for a mediocre movie, which, sadly, this is.
Friday, 29 August 2014
There’s a kernel of a good idea somewhere within Winter Tale’s body. It’s a tale of demons, love and miracles. But it also happens to be a completely stupid, wretched, worthless piece of filmmaking - the kind of movie that takes whatever good ideas it has and chokes them thoroughly to death. The murderer here is Akiva Goldsman, a filmmaker whose work has run the gamut from Batman Forever to Batman & Robin. Okay, he also wrote the scripts for A Beautiful Mind (one of the worst films to win the Best Picture Oscar), Lost in Space and he tried his darndest to ruin I Am Legend. He’s an appalling filmmaker without any discernible taste. Therefore it was rather terrifying to think that he was going to direct his first movie. Let loose without the likes of Ron Howard to try and redeem his risible words, how would he fare? Badly, of course. The film begins with an immigrant couple trying to gain entry into America with their newborn child. The mother, however, has consumption and they’re denied entry. Not wanting their baby to suffer their fate and rot in some European hellhole where everyone drinks their own piss and eats old ladies, they decide to sneak him in New York. They do this by placing him in a model sailboat and lowering him into the water so that he can float to Manhattan. They obviously have a lot of faith that the little model isn’t going to capsize on the way and that the currents will wash him up in the perfect location and that he won’t starve or freeze to death. Either that or the little bastard is keeping them up all night and they don’t give a shit either way. Being that this is a fairytale, the baby survives its worrisomely long journey to Manhattan and grows up to be Colin Farrell. As soon as we meet Mr Farrell, he’s being chased by a gang of thugs. Oh no, he’s gonna get a clobberin’, you think to yourself, but before Russell Crowe can finish chewing up all the scenery, he’s riding a magic horse that’s apparently his guardian angel. Okey dokey. Colin Farrell is playing about twenty years younger than his real age and he’s befriended a magical horse and Russell Crowe looks like he’s suddenly lost the ability to act, but I’ll give it a go. What’s next? Oh shit, the horse is telling him to rob a mansion and now he’s flirting with a girl who has consumption. ‘What’s the best thing you’ve ever stolen?’ she asks him (the fucking guy who broke into her fucking mansion!). ‘I’m beginning to think that I haven’t stolen it yet.’ Vomit! Vomit! Tons and tons of vomit spewing from every orifice! Yes, I know this man is dreamy, but he just admitted that he wants to rob your gaffe and now you’re making him tea and falling in love with him. And you’re the same silly girl that fell in love with the Irish chauffeur in Downton Abbey and then carked it while giving birth. Do you have an Irish fetish, lady? Maybe Russell Crowe will save this film. Maybe the opening scene was just a one off. He’s a great actor, after all. Okay, he sounds like he should be handing out Lucky Charms but he’s intense as always. Oh, nice, he’s intimidating wait staff and being a dick. Business could be about to pick up... What the fuck! He’s turned into a demon and killed the wait staff! A magical horse and a demon Russell Crowe? This is just stupid. But it can’t get any worse. No, no, no. Not possible. Pissing hell. Russell Crowe is now actually throwing Lucky Charms! Watch the fucking trailer. One minute and two seconds!
I’m crying now. I can’t take this. No more. Ooh, Russell Crowe is meeting Satan. Alright. This could be interesting. Hmm. Risible dialogue. Satan’s voice getting deeper when he gets mad. Not so interesting after all... You’re shitting me!! Will Smith as Satan! You’ve just taken the most likeable man in Hollywood and made him Beelzebub! I get it. I get it. You’re casting against type. Blah, blah, blah. Henry Fonda was great as a villain in Once Upon a Time in the West. Yadda, yadda, yadda. But Smith isn’t doing anything to make us fear or hate him. He’s just occasionally reaming Russell Crowe, who’s acting like a dick anyway. We bloody well want him to get reamed. This just isn’t working at all. And now it looks like they’re chilling! Russell Crowe is chewing the shit and chilling out with Satan Smith! Utterly, utterly ridiculous. And Smith even has an earring, like he’s a pirate Lucifer! Can you not make one decent decision in this film? I think there’s possibly one good scene in this movie. After Colin Farrell’s consumptive girlfriend pops her clogs, he’s confronted by Russell Crowe on horseback. Farrell’s horse, of course, is white and Crowe’s is black. Crowe barks at him and briefly there’s some gravitas (he talks about blackening souls and crushing miracles), but then it kind of turns into The Matrix with a hundred anonymous guys in bowler hats trying to crush our hero. If the film wasn’t crude and manipulative before, it gets even worse when our hero is transported into modern times. He encounters a little girl in a park who happens to be wearing a hat. Now if you’ve watched any films before, you’ll know that this is suspect. A hat on a little girl means that she has a 90% chance of having cancer. And of course this little girl does have cancer. Oh, what’s going to happen here? Is she going to wither and die? Or is our hero going to find a way of performing a miracle and save the wee innocent poppet and try to wring out some undeserved emotion from this festering shitpile of a movie? What do you think? This movie is so bad that it really should be studied. It’s a brilliant encapsulation of how you can get everything wrong. You can take this good idea and fuck it up with terrible writing, awful casting, atrocious acting and hamfisted melodrama. A film like this could be wonderful like Wings of Desire. It just needs someone with a bit of intelligence and taste. Instead we get the guy who wrote Batman & Robin. It would have been a real, genuine bona fide miracle if this had turned out well. But of course, it didn’t. I guess I’m sticking to atheism then...
Wednesday, 6 August 2014
Ridley Scott doesn’t half produce a lot of crap for someone in the upper echelons of the film community. For every good film he makes, there’s a steamer in his back pocket. He gives us Gladiator but he also gives us Hannibal. He gives us Blade Runner but he also gives us Legend. He gives us Black Hawk Down and Alien but he also gives us Robin Hood, GI Jane and Thelma and Louise. You never know where you stand with Sir Ridley. The Counselor is firmly in the steamer category. It doesn’t possess one, single redeemable quality. The acting is horrible, the dialogue is atrocious, the plot makes no sense and it looks like shit. If anything, it looks more like a Tony Scott film from the 80s than a Ridley Scott movie. There’s plenty of smoke and backlighting. But Ridley is desperately trying to make this into a glossy, luxurious, decadent crime epic. Instead it resembles a Ferrero Rocher commercial or some cheesy advert in the front pages of Vogue. For fuck’s sake, there’s a scene where Javier Bardem and Cameron Diaz are watching their pet cheetahs hunt prey in the desert. They’re decked out in designer safari outfits. These people are the two biggest assclowns in the history of the world. Forget Kim and Kanye, these two dickheads have them licked. Compounding matters is the fact that Javier Bardem has a haircut that makes him look like Sonic the Hedgehog and that Cameron Diaz has a cheetah tattoo on her back along with a gold tooth and fingernails that look like claws. Do you get it? She’s a hunter like her pet cheetahs. She’s bad news. Subtle, no? Just in case that wasn’t enough evidence for you to prove that Diaz’s character is a little touched in the head, there’s a scene where she fucks Javier Bardem’s car. Yeah, you’re reading that right. She fucks Javier Bardem’s car. Before you get ahead of me, no, she doesn’t have sex with the exhaust pipe or the gear stick. What are you, a fucking pervert or something? Geez. No, she decides to hump the windshield instead. Javier Bardem’s character watches in horror. He says that watching her rub herself on the glass was too gynecological to be sexy. He likens her pussy to a catfish. Charming image, no? But somehow, rather than hit the gas pedal and propel the crazy woman off his car, or take her home, say he has a headache and never return her calls, he continues to pursue a romantic relationship with this mentalist. A woman who fucked his car! A woman who did the splits, lifted up her skirt and humped his windshield. For me, that’s pretty high up on the list of reasons to break up a relationship. Cheating is bad, as is lying and stealing, but shagging a car is just weird and disturbing. Whats’ next? The TV? The oven? Random door handles? The cats? Over time we’re supposed to get the idea that Diaz is some kind of evil genius. She attempts to steal some drugs from the Mexican drug cartel but then fucks up along the way. However, this doesn’t stop her from stealing the money she wants and brutally killing Brad Pitt’s character. In the final scene she mentions how hunters have grace, beauty and purity of heart. The film then ends with her saying that she’s famished. You see what she’s saying? She’s the hunter. She’s the one that’s pure of heart, she’s the one that’s beautiful. Wow, I spent two hours watching a bad thriller so that you can verbally wank yourself off. It also cracks me that up that during this final scene, Diaz is sitting in a restaurant, wearing a hood. You can see that her male companion is shitting himself. ‘This woman is crazy. First of all she turns up for our date looking like Emperor Palpatine, now she’s talking about herself being a hunter. Can I escape before she gets her catfish out and humps the creme brulee?’ It doesn’t help that all of this egocentric nonsense is coming out of the mouth of Cameron Diaz. She doesn’t have an ounce of danger in her body. She doesn’t convey a shred of intelligence. Not for a single second do I think that she’s capable of any of this. This role would have demanded an actress much finer than her. Diaz just comes over as a cheap hood rat. Lots of the time she’s duck facing. And there’s one particularly hideous scene where she’s talking to Penelope Cruz about a diamond ring. She’s supposed to be imparting her vast knowledge. But instead she just sounds like a robot reading cue cards. And what the hell is with her make-up? She doesn’t look like a cheetah. She looks like a panda with a fake tan. She’s painful to look at. Something else that doesn’t sit well is the pointlessly contrived extreme violence. In one sequence, Diaz hires a couple of people to steal from the Mexican drug cartel. In order to get the drug cartel’s vehicle to work, she has to obtain a special component from a guy on a motorbike. The component is in his helmet. Now how would you go about stealing from this guy on a motorbike? Knock him off his bike with your car? Shoot him? Or drive miles and miles ahead of him and spend ages setting up a wire that will decapitate him? With this wire you have to spend lots of time measuring and you have to make sure that he drives down a particular road and you have to set it up at night so that he can’t see it. You also have to make sure that the guy looks up so that he can present his neck for you. To do this, you need to make sure to hit some car lights at the crucial moment. But surely this is the most logical option? Much better than shooting the guy and taking his helmet off. But yeah, these people do indeed set up this wire and his head does indeed roll. Foreshadowing another bloody set-piece is a conversation between Javier Bardem and Michael Fassbender. Bardem tells The Counsellor about an innovative way to kill someone. He tells a story about a device that slowly garotes you. A wire is looped around someone’s head and then a motor slowly tightens the wire. Eventually it cuts through your neck and through your arteries. Again, as a method of execution, this seems to be a little fussy. Plus it lacks the personal touch. At least in the past some burly guy would have to huff and puff and use some muscle to kill you. This is the millennial way to kill someone - it’s like having a fucking app do it. Throw something over someone’s head, press a button and voila! But you know that this machine is going to turn up later in the film and indeed it does. Brad Pitt is hiding out in London and Cameron Diaz gets one of her underlings to throw this thing over his head. Sure enough it tightens around his neck. And then as he tries to pull it off, the wire cuts through his fingers and chops them off before severing the arteries in his neck, leaving him to die in geysers of blood. Again, this just seems silly. It’s too contrived. Just shoot him with a silencer. What happened to the cool, civilised ways of killing someone? I haven’t talked much about the story, have I? Or Michael Fassbender. It doesn’t matter. The story is complete nonsense, the dialogue is pretentious drivel and Michael Fassbender has nothing to do. He’s just an idiot patsy who gets what’s coming to him. Oh, wouldn’t it be a great idea, seeing as I’m a lawyer and already making lot of money, to suddenly get in the drug business? And to do business with the Mexican drug cartel. That sounds like the best idea in the history of the world. Nothing could possibly go wrong. Oh wait, everything’s gone wrong and my future wife has been kidnapped and they’ve made a snuff film where they behead her and she’s been dumped in a landfill. Who could have guessed? Wait, this was written by Cormac McCarthy? Shit in my boots and call me a whore. How? Why? What...the...fuck?!?
Sunday, 27 July 2014
I know some people have trouble with Scorsese’s films Goodfellas and Casino. There were often claims that they glamorized the worlds they portrayed. I would counter that with the brutal violence that was depicted. Yes, Scorsese’s craft was such that they were seductive, beautiful films, but then the characters would end up getting brained with a baseball bat or shot in the head. So yeah, you can have this exciting life with money and girls and power, but you’re probably going to come to a sticky end. Do you still want a part of it? The Wolf of Wall Street is a bit more morally ambiguous. But then that’s kind of the point. Like the gangsters in Scorsese’s mob films, they have money, power and lots of sex, but their comeuppance is far less significant. A little bit of jail-time is the most they have to worry about. Hell, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), the Wall Street broker depicted in this film, steals millions and millions of dollars and only gets a couple of years in prison. They’re gangsters who don’t have to look over their shoulder. I know my wife had a big problem with the tone of this movie and the ending, but the final scene is kind of a mirror of the one in Goodfellas. At the end of Goodfellas, Henry Hill, who rats out his friends and escapes his life of crime by disappearing into the the Witness Protection Program, complains bitterly about his new life. As he picks up the paper, he says that now he has to live a life like everyone else. He can’t even get proper pasta. And you think to yourself, what fucking ingratitude. The government saves his life and gives him another chance and all he can do is moan. Here, in The Wolf of Wall Street, Agent Denham, the guy mainly responsible for bringing Belfort to justice, looks at his paper and contemplates the lenient sentence given to the broker. He then looks around the subway car and the people surrounding him. The way it’s filmed is incredibly heavy-handed; he’s surrounded by the dregs of humanity. But the point is a valid one. This guy has invested himself enormously in this case. He’s put all this effort into it and he’s still at the same place. Therefore Jordan Belfort’s words ring in his ears. In one scene, they discuss how little the Agent makes and how much money Belfort is swimming in. And so at the end, Denham realises that he can never really have revenge over this guy. Belfort still has money and is only going to serve a couple of years. Denham really wanted to stick it to him and bring him down to size, but justice has not been served. My wife took this scene as a massive fuck you from Scorsese - that he’s laughing at us for being do-gooders and cowards who don’t have the balls to go out and earn lots of money. I didn’t see it like that. I saw it as the grim reality. These people just keep getting away with it and the rest of us just have to sit there and eat it all up. And the final scene is truly depressing. Belfort, now out of prison, is conducting a sales seminar. He has a whole room full of eager disciples who want to learn his sales techniques. This is a man who should be despised. This is a man who should be a pariah. Instead he’s a man who’s admired. He’s a man who’s worshipped. The eager faces in the audience are almost drooling. They want what he has; the ability to make money. And that’s why someone like Belfort will never be completely hated. Because, as a society, we love money. And we love anyone who can make it. We want some of that gold dust to rub off on us. And that’s why Scorsese’s ending is so brilliantly depressing. We’re just going to keep lapping this shit up. We’re never going to learn. The dollar is God. The one character I was rooting for in this movie was Agent Denham. You can feel his seething moral/class outrage as he pursues Belfort. This is a man who can’t be bought. This is a man who doesn’t make a lot of money. This is a man who desperately wants to serve as an equalizer. He wants to bring this cocky, arrogant, gloating prick to justice. He wants to do it for everyone who is busting their ass to make an honest living. The boats, the women, the money don’t impress him. He knows they’re not deserved. But at the same time, he’s not a goody two-shoes, saintly G-Man like Elliot Ness in The Untouchables. In Brian De Palma’s film, Elliot Ness has a perfect wife and a perfect baby and is about as morally pure as you can get. With Agent Dunham, though, you feel like he probably has no life and obsesses about this case when he’s at home. He’s a bit like The Terminator. He doesn't have any charm, but I was behind him and his pursuit one hundred percent. At the opposite end of the spectrum is Donnie Azoff, played by Jonah Hill. I don’t think I’ve been so repulsed by a film character for a long time. I wanted this guy destroyed after only seeing him for about thirty seconds. Vain and arrogant but without a hint of charisma, he’s a turd of a human being. He has no talent, he has no discernible skills, but by latching onto Belfort like a parasite, he manages to obtain fabulous wealth. And to make it even worse, he flaunts his money at every available opportunity and always acts like a colossal dick. His character is actually so repugnant that I don’t know whether this is a good performance from Hill or not. But then I tend to despise Hill in general, so I’m thinking that it’s probably not a performance worthy of an Oscar nomination. One can question the tone of the movie. Most of it is played for laughs. But whether this pleases or annoys you depends on whether you find it amusing when people are fucked up on drugs and alcohol. Personally, I found a lot to laugh at. One of the funniest scenes is when Belfort gets high before an air flight and ends up being strapped to his seat. He has no memory of trying to molest the aircrew and can only beg for more drugs. Yeah, the tone here is far from serious. And one could argue that this means that the film is condoning or somehow endorsing the behaviour depicted, but I’d argue against that. The stuff that happens in this movie is so ridiculous that you can only film a lof of it with your tongue planted firmly in your cheek. If you tried to film some of these incidents in a more serious manner, you’d end up with a pompous, sermonising piece of crap. Maybe a Reefer Madness for the new millennium. One of the few times that the film gets serious is when Belfort tries to kidnap his own daughter and ends up crashing his car and injuring the girl. But this is a minor comeuppance. Belfort escapes from his assholery almost completely unscathed. Such is the unfairness of life. And part of the genius of the film is that nothing truly bad does happen to Belfort. And so therefore some really tough questions are asked of the audience. You’ve watched this guy embezzle millions. You’ve watched him live the high life. You’ve watched him take drugs and get drunk and get into cartoonish scrapes. How do you feel about him? If you like him, you’re wrong. This guy is a Grade A asshole. This movie is a good test of your moral fibre.
Friday, 11 April 2014
The last time we met Lars von Trier, the earth was being smashed by a rogue planet. Then before that, in Antichrist, Wilem Defoe was having his testicles smashed and Charlotte Gainsbourg was cutting off her clitoris. Time to put the children to bed, because we have the final part of the ‘depression’ trilogy - Nymphomaniac, where it’s Charlotte Gainsbourg’s turn to get smashed, this time by hundreds of penises, one of which happens to belong to Shia LaFuckingBeouf. Yep, that’s right, Shia LaFuckingBeouf; the weasley, barely sentient kid from Transformers. Thankfully, contrary to his terrifying promises when the film was cast, we don’t get to see his penis, but we do get to see a porn star have their penis grafted onto his crotch via the wonders of CGI. Ah, what a great job for the tech wizards. ‘What did you do today, darling?’ ‘I’m working on Nymphomaniac, the new von Trier film.’ ‘Oh, that’s exciting!’ ‘Yeah, I’m pasting a porn star’s erect penis onto Shia LeBeouf’s crotch as he has simulated sex.’ ‘Oh...’ So yeah, it’s little weird having the kid from Transformers fool around with a girl and then have von Trier suddenly cut to a very artistic shot between LaBeouf’s legs where you can see his massive stunt penis have full penetrative sex. And now as you shift uncomfortably in your seat and try and change the subject, you ask me how his acting is. Has he matured into a fine thespian? Like fuck he has. His acting is immature and unconvincing and his attempt to perfect an English accent is gut-wrenchingly embarrassing. For half a second it sounds okay, then it sounds fucking awful and then it sounds like he’s swallowed an Australian. It’s one of the worst vocal performances I’ve heard. Just either cast an Englishman in the role or have him speak in his normal voice. Make up some bullshit reason for why an American is living in the UK. LaBeouf’s undetermined age doesn’t lend him any credibility either. We first see him as a teenager and then we see him as an adult. Funny thing is, though, that as a ‘teenager’ he doesn’t look any different to when he’s an adult. LaBeouf is one of those unfortunate people who looks like he could be aged anywhere between 12 and 35. It’s hard to take him seriously as either a teen or adult. Charlotte Gainsbourg and Stellan Skarsgard don’t fare much better. Gainsbourg mumbles morosely into a cup of coffee and Skarsgard comes across as a pretentious simpleton. Yes, that is a contradiction but von Trier somehow manages to achieve it. While Gainsbourg is recounting her experiences as a teenager where she fucked an entire train-load of men, Skarsgard is comparing it to angling and talking about Fibonacci numbers. It’s Iike von Trier has made a fuck-happy Forest Gump. But the wraparound story of a sex-obsessed individual recounting their exploits to an avid listener reminds me of Roman Polanski’s Bitter Moon. In that film, Peter Coyote tells his story to a salivating Hugh Grant. But while Bitter Moon is joyfully trashy, Nymphomaniac is po-faced. It somehow manages to make sex seem like the most depressing thing in the world. It also doesn’t have the emotion and tragedy of Bitter Moon (at least not in this first part). At heart, Bitter Moon is a deeply sad film. Nymphomaniac, meanwhile, is half joke, half depressed rant. It also suffers from a man’s deluded idea of female sexuality. There’s a scene where two girls, one of which is our ‘heroine’ Joe, are going through a train, trying to fuck as many men as possible. It’s a competition between the two women. Whoever fucks the most guys, ‘wins’. It’s something that only a man would come up with. Sport fucking. Fucking like it’s a match between Liverpool and Manchester United. While the portrait of female sexuality is misjudged and adolescent, the portrait of male sexuality is just depressing. None of the men have any willpower. None of them are able to control their impulses. One man, who’s travelling back on the train to see his wife, is powerless to stop our heroine from giving him an earth-shattering blow-job. Everyone here is just giving in to their most basic instincts. Perhaps the only ‘normal’ character is Joe’s father. A seemingly ordinary, decent man, he shares a love of nature with his daughter and is attentive and kind. But even here you can kind of sense that something is off. At one point he catches his daughter looking at book of female anatomy - she’s looking at the clitoris. Her father smiles but doesn’t say anything. While nothing overt happens, their relationship feels a little incestuous. But this is perhaps the most believable part of the film. This feels like a genuine human relationship. Joe even lets her father repeat stories she’s already heard many times before just to make him feel better. There’s love there. And this is maybe why Joe engages in joyless sex. She wants to make men happy. She needs their attention. One of the most plausible sequences in the film is when Joe sleeps around in her father’s hospital. In order to escape the pain of her father’s demise, she repeatedly fucks a hospital employee. But while this feels convincing, von Trier has to be his puckish self and include a saucy detail once Joe’s father dies. Joe becomes aroused and we see a dribble drip down the inside of her leg. But this is how fucked up this film is. The star performer in this movie is Christian Slater! The guy who was Uwe Boll’s muse in Alone in the Dark and who began turning up in direct-to-video clag like Hollow Man 2. He’s miles better than Skarsgard and Gainsbourg. Miles better. It kind of blows my mind. With her father dead, Joe decides to pursue Jerome (Shia LaFuckingBeouf). He’s an absolutely worthless humanoid - a vain, greasy, arrogant nincompoop. Why any woman would desire this individual, I don’t know. But sex addicts rarely make sound decisions, so I shouldn’t be surprised that Joe would seek attention from him. Regardless, it’s difficult to watch these scenes because the acting is so damn wretched. And the ending of the film, with Joe crying, ‘I can’t feel anything’ lands with a dull thud. Did you ever feel anything, Joe? Did you really?