Friday, 18 May 2012

Nostalgia Is Shit

"two dollars for a mars bar! I remember when.." "WHAT what do you remember? Fucking slavery! Shutup."

And an obsession with the past is like a dead fly
Only a few things are related to the "old times"

This post isn't aimed at my historian friends, but rather those that wish to become cultural relics by refusing to acknowledge that which is happening right now. Also, it will be short. 

You people harp on endlessly about how much music, film, 'society', 'values' and everything else was better back in the day. This might be the 20s (decadent), 50s (racist), 60s (naive), 70s (angry), 80s (even angrier) or any other time period so long as it's not now. When we talk about how something was better back then, we're always taking a blinkered view of history. Some things might have appeared better only in relation to other media of the time; or maybe some parts of society appeared less harmful than they are now but you can narrow your vision enough to make anything look good. 

I mean let's face it, special effects are still pretty terrible. I love action/sci-fi movies from the 70s & 80s but they're technically awful when compared to today's, which will be equally terrible in ten years. Compare: Star Wars vs. Avengers. I'm much more impressed by attempts at photo-realistic CGI (which falls into the 'still terrible' category) than Michael 'explode as many things as possible simultaneously' Bay and obviously this wasn't at all possible in previous decades, so people had a different criteria for what constituted 'cool' and it was stuff like this.

Focusing on the (even recent) past slows down the rate of technological advancement. When critics write about the grand old days of cinema when hundreds of 'real' extras were used rather than CGI. Statements like this are unhelpful, and they malign the talent involved as just being strokes of a keyboard or clicks of a mouse. Simply because the implementation is not as difficult (arguable), the development was much more so, but because that's hidden from the end-user (audience), it's not appreciated. Similarly, I really don't care how many extras appeared in Gandhi, why is that more impressive than writing and then using computer wizardry to do this? (Note: I don't like Avatar).

I think the ultimate end-goal of creatives should be the verbatim transmission of the idea in their head, to what appears on their medium of choice. When all have is a butter knife, this is a lot harder to do than with a full set of tools. Maybe if some of us weren't such luddites we'd have more art in the world and if you're going to say that's a bad thing, then clearly we can't even have this conversation any longer (also you're basically this guy:)

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Stand By Me (1986)

That Summer, At Home I Had Become The Invisible Boy

All I knew about this going in was that it's about some boys looking for a dead body in the forest and that it was adapted from a Stephen King novella. It's another of these 80s pseudo-classics that I had wanted to watch for a while but never quite got around to. It was also another of these films that I apparently expected too much from since it really didn't leave much of an impact. I like coming of age stories but I couldn't connect with the characters at all, maybe I'm seeing it too late. Or maybe it's that I'm pretty sure I've never actually seen a dead body. I've been to funerals but they were all closed casket/cremations. When my patrilineal grandfather died, I declined to join my Catholic family in the saying of prayers over his corpse (because it reminded me too much of Rosemary's Baby).

Four boys (Gordie, Chris, Teddy & Vern) live in a small town in Oregon when they hear that the body of a missing boy has been found by Vern's older brother, Billy, and his friend Ace and decide to hike out there and claim the credit. The acting was easily the best part of this film, everything the actors did felt natural unlike so many other roles played by child actors. Chris Chambers (River Phoenix) was the only character that really stepped out of their well worn archetype however, as both the jock-ish leader and Jerk With A Heart Of Gold. On reflection, though, it's more likely I simply projected the Jerk part on to him, which is referenced a handful of times: "Oh wait, it is. No one even asked me if I took the milk money that time. I just got a three day vacation". Unfortunately, other than reminding us that the Pygmalion Effect exists, it doesn't go anywhere with this, not even into the familiar territory of 'confounding expectations/bad kid come good'. The epilogue felt tacked on and meaningless, so I'm not counting it.

"a long time ago, but only if you measure it in terms of years" 
I really dislike the idea that identity develops primarily as a response to large-scale, dramatic events rather than a more synthetic & long-term process. It's hard to believe that Chris suddenly became a model student, or Gordie immediately defies his father and keeps up writing (part of the story is told through his voiceover as he is writing the story as an adult) simply because of a long walk. It's like they didn't know what they wanted to say either, when you contrast the above line with the junkyard scene: the kids scale a fence with a large 'NO TRESPASSING' sign that might as well have read 'THIS WAY, MATURITY LIES'. I could give them the benefit of the doubt as to what they intended, but I'm not in a generous mood.

It was vaguely enjoyable if only for the highly competent performances from a group of actors that continue (mostly) to turn in great performances. Or just Tweet a lot.
p.s., this scene is worthy of any horror film:

Thursday, 12 April 2012

A Handful Of Apathetic Non-Reviews

Sorry for the delay, a wild personal life appeared. I'm going through my 'Movie Project' page and will write a paragraph or so on each one that I've watched but not actually reviewed. Generally this will be because I had nothing much to say on it, or it was a long time ago, or something like that. The next post will have an actual review of a film that did not bore me.

The Lives Of Others

I found it slightly tiresome to watch and not to my liking. There were some really nice ideas throughout but it all boiled down to 'reading poetry will make you a good person'. That plus the fact that it was so long ago I watched means I'm not actually going to elaborate on my notes. Enjoy!

November 1984
"If you want to know whether someone is guilty or not, the best way is to keep asking until they no longer can"
"No one can find out about this until we've found something"
"You're such a miserable idealist, you're almost some big shot"
"The officer's table is over there." "Socialism has to start somewhere" True believer
"Not allowed to record senior comrades"
Stasi man wants us to feel bad for Georg. Christa was just raped.
Art/Love softens. Humanises.
Fomenting discontent (banning permit to make Hauser/Georg talk)
Art (acting?) makes us 'more ourself'. More than we are.
Such conflicted loyalties. Doesn't alert checkpoint/writes report/doesn't deliver it
Superior suspects. In writing please. Very thorough.
Wiesler directly lies to superior.
"This text has "Poet" written all over it. I'd be surprised if I was wrong"
"Illegal antipsychotic drugs" what is this I don't even
"futile heroism"
'What is there to write of in this Federal Republic? Nothing to believe in, nothing to fight against'
To learn that your life was saved by Stasi and you were betrayed by your lover.

fragende = inquisitor/questioning
glauben = think/believe


Hey, it's that film about a guy who's mad as hell and isn't going to take it any more. I'm sure it's more relevant now than it was then (1976) but I just don't care. The satire is so obvious it feels childish, I don't feel anything when it becomes apparent how much Howard Beale is selling out his values to fill his persona, or how the network produces material (Beale's show) critical of the entire industry and yet nobody seems to notice and ratings only increase. With Sky & FOX News, satire has become reality and it makes Network irrelevant for me.

Star Trek (2009)

One of the worst films I've ever seen. I was so glad when it finished because it meant I could finally leave. I was so bored I couldn't even summon the energy to turn off the TV. Young Kirk was completely unbelievable, acting like some future-bro, everyone was grating, it was just a bad film. It doesn't even get a picture.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Trust (2010)

TW: Rape, Child Abuse.

I really like this poster, but wish there was no tagline.

Trust is an incredible film, but I wonder whether it should ever have been made. It's a film about sexual predation and rape where the main character, Annie, is played by a 15-year old girl, Liana Liberato. Minors are required to have a guardian on set, and I'm sure there is a great deal of support available for those that require it; but at the end of the day, we're risking a child's psychological health for our entertainment. I don't want to sound like this guy, but I think it's something we should keep in mind.

Annie is the 14-year old daughter of Lynn (Catherine Keener) & Will (Clive Owen), who works for a marketing firm currently running a campaign for "Academic Appeal" using the same overtly sexual images of teenage models ("This is for a clothing company, right? Then why aren't any of them wearing shirts?") as the other AA. I last saw Keener in An American Crime & Owen in Shoot 'Em Up so this was quite a change of pace for both of them. Annie forms a friendship with 'Charlie' with membership of their school volleyball teams the main thread of conversation: Annie's looking for validation and encouragement; and Charlie only has good things to say to her.

After some time, Charlie reveals he's not really a sophomore, but he's a 20-year old undergraduate. Annie immediately recognises something is wrong and stops. She types a message, unseen to us, as the camera zooms in on the keyboard leaving only 'Return' in focus. This is the tipping point, she looks around, aware that what she's doing is crossing some kind of line, but sends the message anyway. After this, she becomes so bound up with Charlie that even when he continues to reveal how much he's lied to her, she cannot extricate herself. Her parents leave town to take her brother off to college, and they take the chance to meet up. Charlie is clearly in his mid-30s and gives the expected 'age is just a number' talk to a devastated Annie. He ramps up the emotional manipulation straight away: "You made me think you could handle this, Annie". After spending some time in the mall, they return to his motel room, where the inevitable occurs.

Charlie disappears, as they always do, leaving Annie broken. She maintains a steadfast outlook to others, intercut with scenes of her trying to call him in tears. Eventually she tells her friend Brittany what happened, who immediately informs the school principal. As she is led away by two police officers, her fellow students look on, jeering: after the first trauma, the second, much more prolonged one has begun. Annie refuses to believe that she has been raped, instead sticking to the idea that Charlie truly loved her and the adults in her life from her parents to the FBI are simply hounding an innocent man. Here, David Schwimmer focuses a bit too heavily on how Will deals with what happened: lots of scenes with him stomping around angrily, reading chatlogs, even trying to entrap other paedophiles online posing as a teenage girl. When he tells his colleague, Al, why his work has been suffering recently he gives the all too common reaction: that grooming, or any kind of sexual assault where the victim willingly went with their attacker 'isn't really rape'. Limiting Will's reaction to simply a verbal outburst than a punch in the face reinforces that this film will not be about revenge, there will be no vicarious wish fulfilment.

The previously tight-knit family expectedly begins to come apart: Annie is unable to accept her father's victim-blaming and isolates herself. Against her explicit request, Will tells her brother when he returns from college for Halloween. Even at this stage, Annie still holds the belief that her and Charlie had consensual sex: "What, you can tell Peter all about my sex life but I can't talk about his?". When her cognitive dissonance is eventually shattered by the FBI Liaison showing her other girls Charlie had told were 'special', it's a heavy blow. She breaks down with her counsellor who does her best, but what can you possibly say to someone who has just had their innocence destroyed; their childhood taken away? As Annie previously states, "Nothing will ever be the same". 

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Oscar Chat

So firstly, I don't really like the Oscars, mostly because films I like rarely win as many awards as I think they should. Also, the judges seem to live in the past: every year, innovators are ignored in favour of commercially successful films. Yet, on the other hand, hugeky successful sci-fi or fantasy films rarely win any of the Big Five (Actors, Director, Screenplay, Film) with Star Wars & LOTR being notable exceptions. Then there's "Oscar-bait':

I'd like to thank the person who cast me as a blind, autistic, Parkinson's disease-ridden mute, for making this award almost inevitable.
—David Mitchell, Mock The Week

The rules for a film's eligibility also feel really....wrong. A film must be show in LA County & Manhattan for at least a week, advertised in one of the mainstream papers for the city, and can only begin its commercial run in LA County (exceptions apply for foreign language/documentary/animated). With that said, however, I still like the show itself. They're usually pretty fun and I'm planning on watching them live this year. Looking through the nominations, I realised there were quite a few films with multiple nominations that I didn't see, either on purpose or through apathy. I made an effort to watch as many of them as I could handle but still missed more than a few.Despite that, I'll do that thing everyone else does: my own pick to win, and my pick for what the judges will choose.

Full list of nominations is available here:

Films with multiple noms that I did not see include: Extremely Loud, My Week With Mariyln (turned it off halfway through), The Descendants, Hugo, Beginners, War Horse.

Best Supporting Actress:

My Pick: Octavia Spencer - The Help. I think Janet McTeer was excellent but didn't have quite enough screen time.
Judges Pick: Berenice Bejo - The Artist

Best Supporting Actor

My Pick: Jonah Hill - Moneyball
Judges Pick: Christopher Plummer - Beginners. He's old and hasn't won yet, he might die before the next awards!

Best Leading Actress

My Pick: None of them.  Glenn Close - Albert Nobbs. I think it should be Tilda Swinton in We Need To Talk About Kevin, though.
Judges Pick: Meryl Streep - The Iron Lady

Best Leading Actor

My Pick: Gary Oldman - Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Judges Pick: Jean Dujardin - The Artist

Best Director

My Pick: I haven't seen any of these except The Artist, which I'm not picking.
Judges Pick: Martin Scorsese - Hugo

Best Original Screenplay

My Pick: Bridesmaids, because I haven't seen/didn't like the others.
Judges Pick: A Separation
Also, let's just pause for a moment and consider the absurdity of The Artist being nominated in this category. Ok, next one now.

Best Adapted Screenplay

My Pick: Ides of March. I think Clooney should have been nominated for Best Director, so maybe this will make up a little bit.
Judges Pick: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Best Picture

My Pick: I can't honestly choose any of these. Kevin, The Ides of March & Drive should all be on this list instead of this masturbatory shit Hollywood is obsessed with.
Judges Pick: The Artist. If Hollywood loves anything, it loves itself.
Winner: The Artist

Best Cinematography

My Pick: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Judges Pick: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Best Documentary

My Pick: If A Tree Falls: The ELF
Judges Pick: Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

I don't really feel like going through the others because I can't judge sound mixing/editing, or makeup, etc.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Albert Nobbs

"Life without decency is unbearable"

Albert Nobbs is not a film about gender identity or inequality. Instead, it is the sad story of a woman that measures happiness in its financial cost. Glenn Close plays the title character, who works as a waiter in a Dublin hotel and has passed as a man for the past ~40 years.

The only thing Nobbs seems to value is money. Not in the caricatured 'swimming in pools of money' way, but she desires nothing more than economic security for herself. She displays her naivete with regards to human relations at every turn, from her surprise when the (clearly (to us) female) Mr. Page (Janet McTeer) reveals that she too 'passes'; to a dream-sequence where she sees herself and Helen Dawes (Mia Wasikowska) owning a tobacconist together. Even in this scene, it's not clear that Nobbs is happy, or knows what it would be like to be happy, instead it seems to follow a life-plan concerned only with reaching the end successfully and not the contents of the journey.

Dawes' partner Joe is basically pimping her out to Nobbs, who is under the impression that the two could lead a similar life to Page & her wife Kathleen, when really she is simply using Nobbs for financial gain - in much the same way that Nobbs views their relationships. All three characters involved in the arc are unlikable in different ways and it's hard to feel sympathy for any of them. After typhoid fever sweeps the country, Nobbs rushes to Page's home to discover Kathleen has died. With all the tact of Scrooge, she suggests that the two move in together immediately so that 'neither of us will have to be alone'. We then have a scene that is either awful or brilliant: the two women wear dresses for the first time in years, and go to the beach. You could either see it as unsuitably comic in the style of Little Britain or as an act of liberation. I'm willing to believe it was intended to be the latter, but neither actor gets it quite right and it bordered on farcical.

Although the character of Nobbs is pathetic, Close's acting is anything but. It's one of the best rounded performances of last year, she seems to get almost everything right and every scene with both Nobbs & Page is excellent, however she's let down by Wasikowska, specifically in their break-up scene towards the end. It was some of the most overacted, melodramatic nonsense I've seen from an otherwise serious film in years and it was appalling. Nobbs doesn't show emotion, they're not really her bag, but Dawes had up till then been a character full of life and not one for restraint.When she rushes back to harangue Nobbs for his harsh words it was utterly wooden and lacking any kind of feeling at all.

Eventually Nobbs can no longer maintain the calm facade and a fight erupts between her, Helen & Joe which leads to her death. Some time later, Mr. Page returns to the hotel to find that Mrs. Baker the owner of the hotel has stolen Nobbs' life savings and that Helen is now a wage slave living under the fear of her son being taken by the church. Page implies that the two of them should marry in order to save the child and perhaps this at least would have made Nobbs happy in the end.

Monday, 13 February 2012

The Help

The Help is a controversial work, with the Association of Black Women Historians coming out against it's depictions of racism in the South and The New Republic arguing that criticism of the film is unhelpful as it's better it exists rather than the issue being ignored entirely. I don't really think the claims that Kathryn Stockett lifted details wholesale from a maid she knew in her childhood are relevant even if they are true. I don't understand the idea that we own the details of our own lives: we don't live in isolation and our actions impact on others, so why should one person have the right to declare themselves the sole authority on the subject? 

Although I initially didn't even want to watch it, after viewing I'm now more hospitable to McWhorter's reading than the prevailing view. There are a lot of problems with the film but I think anyone who acts as if it harms race relations is to be one of those progressives who refuses to admit the worth of something despite its flaws. Skeeter Phelan (Stone) is an aspiring writer/journalist who returns to her home town looking for a break. Told to write about what disturbs her, she seeks the help of Aibileen Clark (Davis) to begin a collection of stories from the perspective of Black maids working in White households. Despite her genuine belief that Aibileen and the other maids are being treated unfairly, it's made clear that she is still a member of the majority. After the main antagonist Hilly (Howard) and her society friends make some racist remarks she tells Aibileen "Sorry you had to hear that" rather than apologising for the content of the conversation itself. 

A frequent criticism is that The Help presents events to make it look as though it took a white lady to organise and inspire the maids to take action themselves which ignores the community spirit and leadership that was at the root of the Civil Rights movement. There's a brief dialogue which is a clear attempt to head this off before it begins & this is fine, but it doesn't change anything, the narrative still focuses far too much on Skeeter over the maids. 

"what if you don't like what I got to say about white people?" 
"This isn't about me. It doesn't matter how I feel"

Hilly Holbrook is an excellent example of the banality of evil. Her goal for the duration is to pass a law requiring white families that employ black maids to have a separate toilet. She's not violent, instead using her position as Queen Wasp to make sure People Like Her carry on running things (which leads to the inevitable breakdown scene at the end of the film). This is another recurring comment, that it fails to address the level of physical danger black people faced everyday from the KKK, White Citizens Council and similar bodies and instead reduces it to bickering amongst housewives. For me, this one is the least grounded in reality. The assassination of Medgar Evers is referenced and the arresting of one black maid where she is struck on the head with a police baton was pretty graphic. 

When Hilly sees Skeeter reading a pamphlet she warns her that "There are real racists in this town. If the wrong person caught you with anything like that, you'd be in serious trouble". People are often quite willing to admit minor character flaws (selfishness, laziness, etc) yet we often point out those worse than ourselves to excuse our own deeper faults. To continue my attempts at being more open, here are some oppressive attitudes/behaviours I hold/have held:

-I do the "white people can't tell PoC apart" thing occasionally. I watched multiple episodes of 30 Rock convinced Selma Hayek was Penelope Cruz.
-I'm not convinced by any of the arguments that pornography (outside of the small subset that is for/by women) isn't harmful yet I still watch it.
-I think anyone seeking to live in a new country should be fluent in that country's first language.
-I get at least as much pleasure from talking about good things I've done as I do from actually doing them.

As much as the way that Skeeter is shown as the catalyst for change is abhorrent, there's potential redemption towards the end with the aforementioned scene where Yule Mae Davis (I think!) is arrested then shortly afterwards, a large group of maids assemble to share their stories. It makes the fairly obvious point that as much as intellectual arguments for social justice need to be made, people are more likely to have a strong reaction when things are taken out of the abstract and made personal. These women would all have experienced violence and intolerance before and yes, the film falls down here but it's pretty difficult to fit everything into the narrative of a film and still have it be something people will watch. Maybe that's enough of an argument that it shouldn't have been made at all but I think it's good to have more voices in a conversation. I'm also aware however that I'm a white guy living in 21st century Britain, so that's a whole lot of separation from being a black maid in 1960s Mississippi and I don't know how much the opinion of someone with no direct experience is worth.