We Need to Talk About Kevin – Lynn Ramsey – DVD (7/4/12) As predictably harrowing as the novel’s premise, Lynn Ramsey does fitting and powerful justice to a very troubling story. The eerie soundtrack (that premeditates the tapping water of garden sprinklers- a key and unsettling element of the film’s disturbing scene of final violence) is innovatively arranged and written by Jonny Greenwood (having already explored inventive film music in There Will be Blood and Norwegian Wood). Tilda Staunton gives a very strong and arresting performance as the tortured mother, while Ezra Miller excels as the adolescent Kevin (he perfects a twisted smile of malevolence). Not only mastering a non linear fragmentation in the film’s first half (effectively building the portrait of a woman haunted by the past, lost in the present and bleakly coming to terms with what might constitute the future) but also creating some very memorable shots, brilliantly utilizing light and striking compositions (For instance: Tilda Staunton’s gaunt face framed by an expanse of Warhol-esque cans of soup, or later, sitting in the ghostly emptiness of a hospital corridor, holding a garishly discordant multitude of children’s balloons – both serving as dramatic examples of masterful control and calculated visual flare. Having had everything she loves destroyed by what she created; the mother is left with lonely and unnerving challenge of understanding the destroyer. Before the film’s emotive and chilling influence had truly settled (i.e. very early on), it occurred to me that We Need to Talk About Kevin could be perhaps be the most hard hitting and torturously labored advert for durex ever conceived: ‘If they had stayed safe…We Would Never Have Had to Talk About Kevin’. However, such whimsical digressive thoughts were soon dispelled by the compulsive and immersive nature of the film. 8.5/10
Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo – Jessica Oreck – DVD (22/4/12) A documentary tracing the unique fascination, in Japenese culture and history, with insects. From the chirruping Crickets that are valued for their varying ambient ‘songs’ (produced through a process called ‘stridulation’ whereby one serrated wing is rubbed against the respective teeth of its other wing- the notion that the noise is created by rubbing their legs together is a myth…or so the entomological fountain of knowledge: Wikipedia, informs me!). Anyways, the documentary fuses poetry, philosophy, anthropology, bizarre and brilliant visuals and a memorable soundtrack to create a thoroughly immersive, entertaining and moving cinematic experience. Becoming much more than a factual account, Oreck’s film tactfully blends between poetic shots, redolent of essay film experimentation, eccentric voice over information (ranging from the social observations of contemporary Japan, folklore, science, poetry and philosophy), candid interviews – all alongside the raw, unadulterated footage of a day to day involvement with this under exposed and eccentric topic. Giant Luna Moths, pinned butterflies, fighting beetles, emperors and gadflies, warriors and dragonflies and the boxed song of crickets. It is an original, fascinating and, at times beautifully hypnotic, documentary that manages to convey spiritual depth without affectation or cringe-worthy navel gazing. A film that reaffirms what Western materialism, amongst other unfortunate pastimes, has engulfed, ignored and eclipsed: a simple enchantment with the natural world.
An innate appreciation opposed to the neurotic hunger to change, improve or defend against nature, or more commonly to repress any trace or interaction with nature. When cockroaches and maggots are wheeled out in bucket loads for cheap entertainment in the car crash charades of I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here! The shock game show sensationalism that snooty conservatives of British Television would traditionally relate to ‘Trashy Japanese Gameshows’ of yesteryear, it seems we (in all our Western gameshow glory) are now inhabiting the stereotype that was reserved for a misjudged colonial ‘them’. I am not saying that Japan is not without its extravagantly bizarre gameshows, far from it: women tying raw meat to their heads, and then placing said vulnerable craniums (loaded with blood red meaty temptation) into the tank of a Komodo Dragon…it’s out there. A simple Google search of ‘Japanese Gameshows’ will confirm this. But what I am, tangentially, suggesting is that this film communicates a value we undoubtedly are in danger of overlooking. It is the simplicity, tangible wonder and crawling, flying joy of insects. Viva la woodlouse! Hail mighty housefly! Praise the carapace, consecrate the six limbs, crown the antennae, worship the moth and…well, watch the film. 8/10
Volver – Pedro Almodovar – DVD (27/4/12) A tale of family, love, death, ghosts and deception, all told with a gently dark sense of humour. Alberto Iglesias’ score over the final credits is brilliant- but not as intense or memorable as the soundtrack to the, ultimately more tense, The Skin I live In. A terrific partnership between Director and composer…calls to mind other great patnerships, or a contemplation of the chemistry between film and music-which directors use which composers and why, how those relationships are fostered, change and mature. Thinking of Alfred Hitchcock and Bernerd Herrman, Daren Aranofsky and Clint Mansell, David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti, and recently the interesting relationship between David Fincher’s The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Trent Reznor’s electronic accompaniment. Returning to the film, it feautures a brilliant performance by Penelope Cruz (playing the short tempered and emotional lead with effortless charisma and seductive scene stealing beauty), meanwhile Blanco Portillo provides a gripping and nuanced performance of the quietly strong Augustina, desperate to discover the truth about her mother before her inevitable death. 7.5/10
The Headless Woman – Lucrecia Martel – DVD (28/4/12) The film manages to take a potentially simple occurrence and swamp its subsequent aftermath and telling with a complex, unsettling, compelling and disorientating atmosphere. The film follows the life of Verónica, an upper class Spanish woman who, at the very start of the film has a car accident. We see her look in the wing mirror at what appears to be the slumped body of a (now dead) dog, presumably the cause of the car’s abrupt halt and a resulting ominous thud. From this moment on, her character becomes ambiguously detached from her day-to-day existence, seeming remote, anxious and melancholy. Our viewing experience matches Verónica’s altered mentality after the accident: it becomes a film in which certainty is replaced by a haunted suspicion and we are left wondering what exactly did happen? Did she hit a dog – or, when she confesses to having killed someone do we believe her? Is she loosing a grip on reality, or is her reality unhinged by a trauma now repressed? We begin to inhabit the same space of paranoia and isolation, never quite at ease with exactly why, or even who. The film manages to remain compulsive without ever delivering the action, explanation or resolution that a conclusive clarity or understanding aches for. Much of the film’s power radiates from María Onetto’s central performance as Verónica. She conveys the distress of her emotional instability with a helpless poignancy, carrying the suffering of an event which remains unknowable while enacting, with naturalistic and understated expression, the quiet desperation of a damaged mind struggling against a trauma which evades understanding or satisfying reconstruction. The film consequently becomes indirectly suggestive of both Lynch’s Mullholland Drive and Bergman’s Persona, however without the undercurrent of surrealism, in its depiction of a woman’s descent into psychological disarray. It lingers long after watching and, for all its lack of action and cinematic adrenaline, builds an impressively original and disturbing atmosphere. 9/10
That Obscure Object of Desire – Luis Bunuel – DVD (28/4/12) The film begins with a man climbing aboard a train, he sees a young woman running alongside the train and somehow manages to acquire a bucket of water: he throws the water at her-competently drenching the poor wench. Once in his train cabin, the other passengers nearby (a woman and her child, an old man he happens to know from court and a dwarf who studies Psychology) are intrigued to know the story behind this bucket- based station altercation: and so begins the narrative of That Obscure Object of Desire.
Needlesly Cynical and Comprehensive Plot Synopsis: (many, many SPOILERS alert)
A bearded man (Fernando Rey), resembling an aristocratic Alan Sugar or a slightly slimmed and elongated Tom Jones meets a woman he falls hopelessly in love with. He appears to be around the sixty mark, she meanwhile is a casual eighteen years old. He seems to woo her with a combination of money, sharp dressed swagger and persistence. This woman bizarrely changes, without anyone mentioning or acknowledging the change, from one beautiful dark haired actress to inexplicably be replaced by another insanely beautiful (but entirely different) dark haired actress- both playing the same character. Their ill fated affair ends in his realization that, unsurprisingly she was never really into him and was in fact stringing him along to the point at which he bought her a house and entrusted her with a key. Once given the key, she closes an iron gate whereupon he is locked out and subjected to her triumphant laughter. She wins: the wealthy older man seduced and deceived by the cunning young temptress. She reveals she was in fact sleeping with a much younger and handsome fella, who is allowed to wander from the shadows once the gate is shut. She then proceeds to strip off and taunt the poor elderly gentleman with the spectacle of her having sex with her real lover. Several unexplained changes betwixt each actress later she attempts to demonstrate that the man was actually a homosexual, the whole thing being a charade, and yes she does still in fact love him. The older man (our crisp suit sporting protagonist) slaps her around a little bit (in a time when such fits of physical outrage were only proper for a man in his position), livid that she has returned after humiliating him so severely. This leads us chronologically to him alighting the train, soaking her on the station and entrusting the motley crew of passengers with his farcical tale. Meanwhile, what he doesn’t know is that Concitta (his mercurial lover) has boarded the train too. She has found a reciprocal bucket of water and, after our man has finished his raconteur act, she appears at the cabin doorway and drenches him. Yadda yadda yadda…they somehow patch things up and start a life again together. The whole film takes place against a backdrop of street terrorism, car bombs and gang attacks etc. At the very end of the film our lovers are walking hand in hand in a shopping arcade (after staring at a seamstress in a shop-window weaving patterns on a blood stained fabric) when an explosion engulfs the frame of vision. The final shot is of the flames, billowing explosion and smoke- characters lost from sight and potentially, and very much fatally, dead. Freeze frame…Roll dem credits!
The intriguing casting of two actresses (Carole Bouquet and Ángela Molina) to play one role was suggested by Bunuel following a decisive argument he had with Maria Schneider, the actress originally intended for the role. The use of the two actresses works in a fascinating manner, reflecting changes of temperament and aesthetically adding an unexpected dimension to the film. Despite my cynical round up of the narrative it was an enjoyable and definitely interesting film (undeserving of random derision!). Thematically the film taps into notions of sexual gratification and its role within love, the tension between male and female desires, desire as a mysterious and misleading force and of course, Bunuel’s latent distaste for bourgeois affectations. Desire as an absence and the distinctly surrealist fixation with the female form- as the ‘obscure object of desire’, all provide the film with plenty of insightful moments for anyone intrigued by Bunuel’s particular surrealist sensibility. It was Bunuel’s last ever film. 7/10
War Horse – Steven Spielberg - DVD – A film of classic family Spielberg sentimentalism that, for the most part, fulfills its blockbuster objectives and entertains with emotive competence. While I don’t feel the need to attack it with the venomous critique that Peter Bradshaw so mercilessly deployed: ‘Suffused in a buttery-digital glow, as if shot on special film made of liquid fudge, Steven Spielberg's disappointing, coercively sentimental version of War Horse has a baffling, soulless, artificial look’ – I am still pretty reserved with praise. The combination of John Williams’ score, with its insistent heavy-handed emotional signposting, and Spielberg’s lighting, that all too lovingly evokes a cinema of saccharine pastoral landscapes, earnest twinkling eyes and a consecration of the family unit to the point of moralistic syrup…can all become pretty trying. I think also, at some point on the Kermode and Simon Mayo podcast the comment: ‘War Horse: Why the long film?’ surfaced…and yep, it could do with being a bit less lengthy. However, as a family film fashioned with care, convincingly acted and replete with spectacle it delivers. 6/10
Blue Valentine – Derek Cianfrance – DVD –A film that explores the untidy death of a relationship; a realistic, moving and unflinching portrayal of how love and life exhaust each other. Both Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams give terrific performances, making for a genuinely compelling, flawed and believable couple. The dialogue is interesting and well written, with the film’s aesthetic palette reflecting its honest tone with colours, scenes and settings devoid of glamour and shot with a subdued sense of (that overused cliché) ‘grit’. 8/10
Troll Hunter - Andre Ovredal (missing appropriate Nordic accents…as I cant find them currently) – DVD – A ‘found footage’ documentary that follows a small group of students who stumble upon the fact that Trolls live! A fantastic, fun, at times hilarious…all together impressively enjoyable! It is truly refreshing (especially in the saturated sub genre of ‘found footage’) to see such a fantastical, fairytale creature visually realized with such serious detail and flair. It is the serious, straight faced nature of the film that lends it its humour, excitement and charming emotion. A lot could be said about this film, but far more enticing and immediate is the need to express just how fun it is. Not a long film and not a film that explicitly tries for comedy or the acceptance of horror fans in buckets of blood it is instead a humble beast…a ruddy lovable troll. 8/10