Saturday, 22 October 2011

The Ides of March

There is no great surprise that George Clooney has made a political thriller. With a title like the Ides of March we know from the outset that all is not right here. Throughout the film we’re introduced to different presidential influences the most obvious being Obama and the usage of the primary colours poster design used to great effect in 2008. There is also the spectre of Clinton’s peccadillos here as well.

The film tells the story of a Democratic Primary in Ohio, there are two men in the running and both of their teams believe that they can win. We are mainly concerned with Governor Morris’s (Clooney) team and the meeting of the head of media strategy (Ryan Gosling) with a much younger intern (Evan Rachael Wood). They begin a sexual relationship during which he discovers that the intern has slept with the governor and that she is now pregnant. Furthermore the team of the other candidate make overtures to Morris’s media director.

The film more than ably explores the nature of political allegiance and how this is based as much on trust as is it on like-minded individuals forming groupings together. It is as well quite a cynical outlook on the American political system. At times I was reminded of the film True Colors at times which was a portrayal of how much the lure of power can seduce and corrupt. Clooney as well has assembled a magnificent cast, to have Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti together in the same film is a treat indeed. The biggest treat though is witnessing a production that forms part of what could be a zenith of many years defining the grand career of George Clooney.


There are films that are described as disturbing. This film is extraordinarily disturbing because it is all too possible. The premise of the film is that Michael lives on his own in Austria, works in Insurance, keeps a tidy house, commutes to and from work every day, goes skiing with friends and keeps a ten-year-old boy locked in his basement. Of course numerous cases spring to mind where this or something similar happened. What is still astonishing is how someone can appear to be such a normal member of society and commit such acts.

It is shown in the film that discipline, meticulous planning and compartmentalisation would need to be employed. The boy is kept in a very well ordered environment, there is soundproofing on the way down to the cellar, the room the boy is kept in is very well decorated; all evidence of his great planning. A work colleague shows up unannounced at Michael’s house and he can’t cope with this. This is maybe partly due to the fear of nearly being discovered and partly because he’s not used to her being there. At her presence he loses his temper and throws her out.

There is a voyeuristic fascination in seeing how he conducts himself in the home; this all too frequently turns to revulsion at every turn as to the activities Michael gets up to. The film does not attempt to play with your emotions at all. I think what it does is to attempt to give an insight into the whys of the situation and also as to what the implications might be. What really troubles me is the implication that stories like this are so common place and that things like this happen far too often.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

The Lotus Eaters

This film may be a depiction of over privileged, irresponsible, rich people with nothing better to do than to waste their lives away killing each other with drugs, alcohol, diseases and/or car crashes. Then again it may be an adaptation of the Alice stories set in the modern day, where Alice comes across a succession of impossible and increasingly ludicrous situations.

It could of course be both of those possibilities. Throughout the film I found myself getting more and more annoyed with the antics of these people as they continued to go parties, shop lift and take drugs. It cannot be said though that none of this is without consequence. It’s also true that there are people who live their lives this way.

As I’ve said there are the Alice references; the main character is Alice, mind altering substances are taken and there is plentiful surrealism and abnormal activity. There is also a nod to Jean Luc Godard when a girl is told to read a book while on a picnic. She takes offence to this and just happens to have a Noam Chomsky book to hand from which she reads aloud from. This is very reminiscent of Weekend and the discussions of Marxism.

The story does come across like Bright Young Things at time, but without the wit and humour. There is little or no social commentary, apart from rich people having a habit of drinking a lot and that if someone takes drugs they might die. A number of the actors are easy on the eye, which I’m sure gets them out of so many situations, what they do at times is a bit ugly.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Headhunters (Hodejegerne)

The world is full of adaptations of thrillers. Add the words international bestseller to a dust jacket or a paperback cover and it won’t be long before they’ll be the addition of now a major motion picture. Sweden has Stieg Larsson, Norway now has Jo Nesbø.

The story is concerned with Roger Brown, who we are told at the beginning of the film has this thing about his height, along with having a taller wife. He’s also an art thief and a recruitment consultant come to that. His wife has expensive tastes, which he feels obliged to cater for. This he does by efficiently breaking and entering and then replacing valuable works of art with valueless copies. What his wife really wants though is a child, he’s not sure that he can afford this until he meets a man who he hears has at home a priceless Reubens.

There is a question here that if the owners never realise that they have a valueless copy are they actually suffering. The answer is yes of course, without realising it. Roger discusses this in the film when he talks about the Julian Opie piece in his office being worth a quarter of a million, and that’s because it’s by Julian Opie.

As a thriller Headhunters is absolutely fine. All the film tries to do is to entertain, to thrill; it doesn’t really try to do anything else. The plot is not entirely surprising, but it is engaging in its own sweet way. It follows the Chekov maxim of a gun being spotted in the first act and then fired in the third. Be prepared for a lot of blood and more than enough violence. To be concise, it serves its purpose of being diverting from the daily grind.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Where Do We Go Now?

A Lebanese film which introduces us to a village that is half Christian, half Muslim. This is a place where peace has broken out after years of division and fighting. I was once told that in Lebanon they would drink wine and make love, and that they would have a war every twenty five years. This is maybe a little more frivolous than the truth of course. The beginning of the film, however, shows the villagers coming together in celebration to watch a television that has been set up on a hill. The mayor tells the citizens that this is their progression from the 20th century to the 21st.

If only life was so simple. The rest of the film is concerned with the women of the town first of all stopping the men hearing about multi-faith violence and then subsequently stopping them from taking part in this violence themselves. It’s the women who have continually picked the pieces after these conflicts, where the too young are buried in the village’s cemetery. Tellingly there is a pathway dividing the two halves of the cemetery so that those of different faiths cannot be buried together.

It’s curious in the film that all the men, both Christian and Muslim, who are happy to bring up the divisions at every given opportunity, dress in a broadly similar way. It’s therefore difficult to tell what their faith is from their appearance. The women, however, are unified in their purpose and dress according to their faith.

At times I was reminded of Cinema Paradiso. There are plenty of examples of how an uncomplicated life can have its benefits. There is however the recurrent threat of ethnic violence hanging over the villagers. The film doesn’t try to preach to people, it really asks what can we do to alleviate the situation we’ve found ourselves in. How do we make life better for ourselves? Where do we go from here?

Alps (Αλπεις)

A dark comedy about a group people in Athens called Alps, led by a man nicknamed Mont Blanc. They perform a service of filling in for dead people so that their relatives and loved ones can feel that the dearly departed are still with them. Two of the group are a nurse and a paramedic who are in a prime position to find those who may be in need of the Alps services. The nurse, for instance, cares for a girl who dies as a result of being in a traffic accident. She fills in for the girl at her parents’ home. The director Yorgos Lanthimos asks which is stranger her offer or the parents’ acceptance.

There are times in the film where it feels like a Greek adaptation of songs by Belle and Sebastian. This is due to the prevalence of athletes; tennis players and gymnasts, and the subsequent currency of sexual favours that appear in different guises and for differing reasons throughout the film.

The theme of character is very important in a film of such subject matter of course. It’s very interesting how the limits of this are explored as well. In all this the element of pretence, it’s quite often seen that betrayal is not far away. The statement that cannot hold true and that cannot explain any of the actions is ‘I was only pretending’. Even in pretence betrayal appears to be all too real.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Dark Horse

Abe is a man not afraid to tell people what he feels about them, he acts as if he’s not able to control his emotions all the time. He’s in his thirties and lives at home with his parents and has a penchant for collecting toys and figures. He’s a fan of the Simpsons, Doctor Who and Thundercats among other things. We never know if he has collected the figure of the comic shop owner, I bet he has, I’m not sure that he’d see the irony though. As well as living with his parents he also works for his dad in his Real Estate office. Well, he’s employed there anyway. There he answers successive questioning about whether or not he’s finished a vital spread sheet. This is while he gives far more of his attention to the purchase of a $450 Liono figure.

Through an impressive amount of tactless desperation and blind perseverance he gets the telephone number of Miranda. He meets her at a wedding and she shows no interest in him whatsoever. He through not really noticing that she’s not interested arranges to meet her at her parent’s house and very quickly proposes marriage. Amidst all of this bravura and Abe’s satisfaction in his collection is a deep set feeling in inadequacy. He feels that he’s at the bottom of the heap, especially in comparison with his brother and his cousin. This manifests itself in him feeling undermined at work and at home.

Todd Solondz has given us a comedy of dark proportions that questions us on parental relationships, prospects of unmarried thirty somethings and whether people of that age should be collecting toys. He liberally uses fantasy scenes to explore these themes. There are so many of them that you may wonder what reality actually is. That is the want of fiction, I suppose. In the middle of all of this is a towering performance by Christopher Waken, he plays Abe’s father, and displays hi customary menace. This is though while being on the verge of retirement and who spends his time selling space in strip malls and watching questionably funny comedy shows. The menace is all in his eyes.

The Somnambulists

A film designed in such a way to arrest your attention and your sensibilities from the outset. At the beginning, before the credits, we see a burning man, wheeling as he runs with the fire lapping and enveloping the back of his body. In this faux documentary we are then presented with a succession of talking heads of British soldiers talking about their experiences in Basra in Iraq. There are common denominators of dust and heat, and the fear of what they faced on patrol and the anticipation of this as well.

The film continually challenges points of view. The soldiers have a way of looking at you and telling you that they knew what you were thinking about their job in Iraq while they were risking their lives. The film also worked well at reminding me of how trivial my thoughts and actions seemed a lot of the time during the war.

The first soldier talks about going back to his school wearing his army uniform, after being told not to wear his uniform off duty in Britain. His visit, so dressed, had the effect of making a former teacher of his feel unsettled and made him not acknowledge his presence properly at all. As if the uniform had turned in him to a big embarrassment, or at least the perception of it. It was never mentioned but there is the implication that their experience at times was the same as that of returning troops from the Vietnam War.

This was symptomatic of the brutal honesty of the film. The soldiers talk about their feelings in such a way that they appear to be real people. They talk about their fears and their hatred, but also at times about how the army had given new opportunities. The apparent reality comes through as well with small vignettes of the soldiers home lives showing their significant others as they waited at home. These are the images that the soldiers had in their minds and shows what they were fighting for.

Monday, 10 October 2011


Paddy Considine is an actor who has worked in some thought provoking films, playing complex characters. In recent years I’ve seen him play a colour healer in Submarine and a born again Christian pub owner in My Summer of Love. Tyrannosaur sees him make the well-trodden path from actor to director. This journey was taken by one of his lead actors, Peter Mullan, a few years ago.
Mullan plays Joseph, who we see from the outset, is a man of violence, he lashes out and kills his dog as a reaction to being wound up in the bookies. As soon as he aims the first and only kick he is remorseful and full of shame for his action. He’s ashamed of losing it and remorseful for killing his companion Blue.

The trouble for Joseph is that this isn’t an isolated incident. In the first few minutes of the film, after he kills his dog, he smashes a window in the local Post Office and also threatens a young man in the pub with a pool cue. This leads to more remorse and shame and he takes flight eventually taking refuge behind a rail of clothes in a charity shop.

Here he meets Hannah (Olivia Coleman), who we soon discover has her own demons to haunt and torment her. Joseph and Hannah’s coming together begins a friendship that from the outset is based on support and forgiveness. They, as the film progresses, attempt to help each other find redemption and a way of escaping from the lives they’ve ended up in.

This film is really required viewing. Considine has drawn some great performances from his actors, as so many actor-directors, including Peter Mullan, have done so before him. He allows his actors and characters to breath, enabling them to tell their story and to be real. I especially enjoyed some of the camerawork and some of the segues from scene to scene. This was as clever as the way Hannah’s husband (Eddie Marsan) could segue from mood to mood. Considine is certainly a director who cares about technique which is more than evident from this well-crafted piece of work.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Mademoiselle Chambon

It could be argued that life is like a railway journey, that at certain points we’re faced with choices as to which track to take. Sometimes tracks can take us in directions we were in no way expecting and sometimes it can be all too predictable. Mademoiselle Chambon shows us a man and a woman who reach such points in their lives.

Jean is a builder who collects his son from school after his wife suffers an accident at work. There he meets Veronique, his son’s teacher, who persuades Jean to talk to his son’s class and to look at a faulty window in her apartment. It’s there that he discovers that she plays the violin and he persuades her to play for him. This is after some negotiation as she’s uncertain of playing in front of people. In a moment surely inspired by Hammershøi she plays for him with her back turned to him. There is a reference before this as she has a poster from an exhibition of his in her kitchen.

This is really a useful metaphor as this act highlights how shy they are to declare their true feelings. She is a reserved, but friendly, teacher who lives by herself; he is a male builder who probably in the course of his day does not talk about his deepest desires. He also has a home life that he needs to protect and is a very caring man, as is shown when he washes his father’s feet.

This is a quietly beautiful film that looks at possibilities and is about people who know what the implications are of their actions, or at least take them into account. It is also a study in looking at how you can upset all of the people by attempting to be fair to all of them. I love the way as well that the actors are given space and time, that they are also encouraged to show what’s happening to them and that the plot is sensibly paced and not rushed in the slightest.

Monday, 3 October 2011


From a director who like to court controversy comes a film which is not as controversial as some of his output in the past. Lars von Triers’s film Melancholia is, we are told, as much about the director as it is about the presented subject matter. Not really a great shock there, you should always answer the ‘who made this’ question, it tells you so much about the piece. What is maybe curious about this film is that the female lead, Kirsten Dunst, is the character that the male director identifies with. Putting that to one side, she plays Justine and her story forms the first half of the film.

This is about her wedding and the aftermath at the reception, which has been paid for by her brother-in-law and hosted by him and her sister. It soon becomes apparent that all is not well with Justine’s family as her mother makes a number of acidic remarks whilst the speeches take place. Justine is seemingly on a mission to self-destruct; it becomes apparent that she doesn’t want to be there. As well as the mother’s contribution there is her boss who hasn’t really got the message that she’s not at work and wants her to provide a by line for an advertising campaign. This is von Trier’s rant against commerciality I guess; they always want their pound of flesh. This all contributes to Justine’s state of mind and she tailspins into the slough of despond.

Her sister Claire is the main focus of attention in the second half. She is materially depressed and worried about the planet Melancholia and its eventual proximity to the Earth. I’ve often thought that we may have all of worries about life, money and the state of modern life in general but that will all pale into insignificance given the right natural event.

This is a very thought provoking film and I especially loved the prologue that set the scene. Von Trier presents us with a number of slow moving tableaus that we see explored upon later in the film. There are a number of references to paintings which aid the air of misery and despair. Two of these are Past and Present by Augustus Egg and of course Ophelia by John Everett Millais. These do rather enhance the mood and give you a good indication of what is to come. Some of the dialogue may not be that great in writing or delivery but there is enough there to be at the more engaging end of the scale.