Archive for the ‘The Verdict’ Category

The Illusionist (Sylvain Chomet, UK/Fr, 2010)

The One Line Review: Beautiful, elegiac paean to a bygone era and the inexorable loss that is fatherhood.

The Verdict: I have always loved Belleville Rendez-Vous, so I had been eagerly awaiting Chomet’s next project for some time. That means I held it up to high standards. It didn’t let me down. The Illusionist isn’t in the same vein as its predecessor, it isn’t surreal or exaggerated, this is pehaps the result of the source material; Jaques Tati, revered silent French comic wrote this script for himself, late on in his career. A tale about an entertainer left behind by the times and slowly fading into obscurity would have been a brave and poignant change of direction for the slapstick artist, but the script stayed on the shelf, either he, or more likely the money men, were too afraid of tainting his public image. It’s worked for Bill Murray though. Still, his loss means we gain the sumptuous animation of Chomet, drawn on location is Glasgow using British animators for the most part. This film is just lovely to look at, it’s like walking round a gallery of the best watercolours you can imagine for an hour and a half. It isn’t a criticism, but the film feels much longer than it’s slim eighty minute running time.

Running alomgside this visual ballad of a waning star, is the platonic love story of Tatischeff and Alice. She adopts him as a father figure and he gives everything to please her, to preserve her belief in magic. As she slowly outgrows him he goes to greater and greater lengths to keep her happy, while she obliviously takes it all for granted. It is a tragic representation of paternal love that we rarely see onscreen. It’s sad and it’s beautiful.

Brothers (Jim Sheridan, US, 2009)

The One Line Review: Portman brings her Oscar game a year before Black Swan drops in this fascinating and largely low key relationship drama exploring the redemptive power of grief.

The Verdict: Jim Sheridan, who made powerful immigrant drama In America, draws robust and nuanced performances from Natalie Portman, Jake Gyllenhaal and Tobey Maguire. A tale of two halves, the first is concerned with Portman dealing with being widowed by the Iraq war, Gyllenhaal the black sheep finding redemption by looking after his brother’s family and Maguire not dead at all, slowly losing his humanity as a prisoner of islamist insurgents. The dichotomy between the gently evolving relationship at home, the burgeoning happiness, and the escalating horror and loss of humanity in the Middle East is stark and shocking. The depths Sam sinks to, in a hole in the Afgham desert, are truly horrifying.

The second half is where it all kicks off though. Sam comes home, broken and wracked with guilt to find the hole he left behind has been easily filled by the reprobate brother he was always favoured over. Tommy is forced out of the happy dynamic he and Grace have established with the children and Grace is torn between the man who was there for her at the worst time of her life and the violent, unpredictable shell of the man she once loved.

Brothers is all about what goes unsaid; feelings and suspicions and guilt and remorse all swirl around the wonderfully photogenic faces of the three leads, without the need to signpost every detail in exposition. I’ve yet to see the Swedish original, but it seems the Irish helmer has taken a leaf out the European’s filmmaking book, rather thanfollow the Hollywood tradition of heavyhanded remakes that miss the point.


The One Line Review: There is nothing right about this film and no excuses either.

The Verdict: The Ls and Bs of Queer Diaspora were up in arms about the cloudy sexual identities, ‘lesbian sleeps with man’ cliché and cheating. Personally, I couldget past that, but I was outraged that such a heavyweight cast were wasted. Worse yet, I found the kids respectively obnoxious and tedious- both entirely unsympathetic. I have been hearing about this film for months, on the webs and by word of mouth and whilst there is a lot of debate about the nature of the portrayal of a long term lesbian relationship in the film, most people did say it was a good film with good performances.

I hated every minute of it. I like all of the stars and have really enjoyed other films they have been in, I quite like Lisa Cholodenko too, but everything about TKAAR made me cringe. All of the kissing and the sex just felt unseemly and unecessary, the endless Cali therapy-culture talk was awful too (to my British ears it sounded like satire, but they played it seriously.) I thought the scene where Annette Bening sings Joni Mitchell at the dinner table would never end- I would have hit fast forward but my hands were occupied trying to cover my eyes and ears.

I suppose the point of the film is worn on its sleeve: Whether despite, or because, of their parenting and parentage, the eponymous kids do eventually make the right choices. They have angst and nueroses and bad influences, but ultimately, they sort themselves out without significant outside influence. It seems that, though they may be flawed, the adults in their lives do have good intentions and subsequently, the kids are alright. But the way the point is made misfires.
I wish I could say something in favour of this film, it looked quite nice I suppose, but I hope I never see it again.

and seriously- what offical allows people to call their child Laser?

My One Line Review: This concept just can’t work as live action, it just doesn’t, despite a very respectable performance from Norton.

The Verdict: The Hulk is an iconic character and his story is universal in a way: It’s emblematic of everyone’s internal struggle with their demons. It’s a big shiny metaphor for the repression of civilised society and the innate brutality of men. It’s a cautionary tale about playing God and taking the bounds of medical science too fucking far [too late, cf.animal/human hybrid embryos.] It’s a love story riddled with classic anxieties about not being good enough for someone special, or scaring your partner away when they see the real you- Beauty and the Beast.

Norton’s Banner scenes are likeable, they riff off Hulk lore with reference to stretchy trousers and such, he struggles with his monster and is a winning mix of scientific and rugged. All good.

Banner: [Speaks Portuguese] Don’t make me…hungry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m hungry

Local Cutthroat: Eh?

Then Bruce Hulks out and unconvincing CGI crashes in. It’s a lot better than the Ang Lee version but still. it just kills the suspension of disbelief. The grossly OTT cartoon villain is just silly too. Don’t insult my intelligence now Lois Letterier, whoever the fuck you may be.  We know, bioweapons are bad, the military needs to be better regulated. Thanks. Nuance is possible in our protagonist but the antagonist and supporting characters? Broad strokes please! The big green man will distract them.

As a comic, even as a cartoon, The Hulk is a powerful allegory, on celluloid? Just falls short.

My One Line Review: Utterly tragic, desolate expose of the legacy of abuse.

The Verdict: This is maybe saddest film I’ve ever seen. Certainly the most heartbreaking live action. It is probably on a par with When The Wind Blows and Grave of the Fireflies. I have read any number of reviews saying Mysterious Skin is too explicit, or exploitative or somehow condones child abuse. It is none of these things, it simply acknowledges that these horrors do happen, on our doorsteps, and asks what happens when those children grow up? The ones who aren’t suicides or breakdowns, the ones who go under the radar and just muddle through.

That is the true tragedy at the heart of this film, it isn’t just what happens to the saucer-eyed little boy, it’s that he knows what was done to him and others and that whether or not they ever acknowledge and confront it, it will never be okay. The controversy arises from Neil’s complicity in his abuse and that of others, but I think Araki is trying to show the depth of corruption that arises from systematic abuse. Neil’s subsequent lack of regard for his own safety, his utter detachment are the inescapable legacy of his childhood.

This is by no means a comfortable watch. I am not one for visceral response  and I’m certainly not given to crying at films, but I flinched and shied away and as the haunting melancholic strains of Sigur Ros scored the closing shot,  two broken young men unable to reconcile themselves to one moment in childhood, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s thousand yard stare, I welled up.

A powerful and terrible elegy that will stay with you for some time.

I’m not a fan of online lists. I have tried to provide considered content on this blog and not lazy journalistic filler, but I have made a pledge to be less precious and post more often, so there will be a higher incidence of fluff betwixt the articles henceforth. In typically contrary fashion though, I have waited till list season has drawn to a close before casting my pearls of wisdom.
As best I can, I have tried to recall all the films I saw for the first time in 2011. This is a valuable exercise, at times surprising. I am always chiding myself for not keeping any kind of log of the films I watch or the books I read, or the gigs and shows I attend. I know it would serve me well when I am seeking new reads, or as a source of reference when compiling lists etc, but it just isn’t my style- I am not a meticulous keeper of records, I just like to absorb my culture (pop or otherwise) and move on. The drawback of course being a few months/weeks/days later I have no idea what I have consumed.

So: I can remember all four films I saw at the cinema I believe and LoveFilm helpfully lets me know what they’ve sent me. Anything from Blockbuster or on Television I’ve had to scrounge up from memory and I know there are significant omissions. I will cast an eye over my in-house collection and try to recall which are new additions. Still, there are about eighty odd on my list already, which isn’t bad considering I thought I’d hardly seen any films this year. I can’t even imagine the number I must have seen in the last five years.
That’s clearly far too many to summarise in one blog post so, in honour of the Year of the Apocalypse, I shall select twenty and review each in only one sentence- from these I shall nominate twelve  to receive a more considered appraisal over the next twelve days. Hope you enjoy.

Miyazaki's Ponyo

1. The Illusionist (Sylvain Chomet, UK/Fr, 2010)
Beautiful, elegiac paean to a bygone era and the inexorable loss that is fatherhood.

2. Mysterious Skin (Gregg Araki, US/NL, 2004)
Utterly tragic, desolate expose of the legacy of abuse.

3. Victor/Victoria (Blake Edwards, UK/US, 1982)
Unexpectedly risqué and open about gay lifestyles in the Seventies VV makes subversive use of Andrews’ impeccable voice. [Apparently it was made in the Eighties. Comment stands]
4. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (Edgar Wright, US/UK/Ca, 2010)
Just perfectly put together: the look, the dialogue, the casting- someone finally perfected the formula.
5. The Kids Are All Right (Lisa Cholodenko, US, 2010)
There is nothing right about this film and no excuses either.

Mysterious Skin


Severance (Smith, 2006. UK)

Severance- headless suit***Minor Spoilers****

Standard splatterstock and largely predictable but with a few proper laughs. It’s almost a corporate Battle Royale, except the initial corporate downsizing storyline was written out and transplanted with a bizarre Revenge of the Hungarian War Criminals backstory. Which is apparently a comment on corporate responsibility and the culpability of the Western Arms Trade. Personally I think it’s just an excuse to kill off suits in varied and increasingly gory fashion while That Twat Danny Dyer blunders about making ‘comic’ lewd comments in his ludicrous mockney drawl. What Laura Harris Laura Harris stares pensively from windowcould possibly see in him is unfathomable. The male directors’ Wish Fulfilment Rule again. You know the one where no matter how old/aesthetically repellent/ socially incompetent you may be, the beautiful, intelligent and well-adjusted woman will fall for you, just because you’re the main character. Just like in life. Harris is a likeable actress and usually worth a watch, however her purpose here appears to be chiefly to act as an object of lust for the various derisible or simple two dimensional male characters. (more…)

This is cool.

I was lucky enough to participate in a preview of a brand new audience-of-one theatre piece last week. It will be appearing in the Brighton Festival. Entitled When We Meet Again (Introduced As Friends), the second in a series by Basement-supported artists Sam and Clara, it is multi-sensory, interactive and full of to-the-minute buzz words. I’ll run you through the experience.

You are met at street level and offered wine and biscuits. Minutes later you are escorted downstairs by Sam, in a blue and yellow check shirt, through dense darkness into an empty space. He puts a pair of viewing goggles over your head and adjusts the straps so you can see, then you put on the headphones and hear his voice coming through “Is this sound level okay for you?” But you don’t know if the voice is from the man in front of you, or rolling on a tape. Yes kids, it’s genuine C21st virtual reality! Like in the Beano! Amazing. (more…)

Lonesome Jim (Buscemi, 2005. US)

Masturbatory self-pity when pretensions of brilliance forgo decency.

Lonesome Jim does exactly what it says on the tin- it’s all about Jim and his lonesomeness. This film has been subjected to a fair deal of hate on the webs, and rightfully so really. The eponymous Buscemi-lite drifter is one of the most unlikeable protagonists to grace indie screens in recent years. Not in an uncomfortable-yet-necessary way, as we might find in a Noah Baumbach flick, or in a misunderstood-and-redeemable manner, ala Wes Anderson. Nope, Jim is just a prick. Consequently he  spends a lot of time on his jack jones.

There are some redeeming notes scattered about hither and thither, the only vestiges of Buscemi’s direction. As a character, I would have enjoyed watching Jim had he been played by a late 20s Buscemi in his trademark slightly socially incompetent sad sack routine. I like Affleck, especially in 2005’s Gone Baby Gone; he is a prime example of my slowly-evolving Hollywood theory: The Rule of Diminished Siblings. This is where the less famous/bankable sibling in a famous acting family is always a far better actor and quite often a more likeable person. Cf Casey Affleck, Joseph Fiennes, Joan Cusack, Rory Culkin… erm, Emilio Estevez. [Okay, every rule has its exceptions! Sx] (more…)

Here it is folks. I haven’t even read back what I’ve written, but this is the first Liveblogging attempt. It’s pretty long, so I’m going to trial using  exerpts intead of full posts on the home page. Hope you enjoy!

********Warning Full SPOILERS*********

Sugarhouse (Love, 2007. UK)


A not quite middle aged white man traverses real London, beyond the City and the tourists, and though he is almost certainly a native, he seems uncomfortable out here, maybe in the heart of the city, perhaps as far afield as Zone 3. The graffiti tag stylising of the opening credits set the genre quite distinctly. British, urban, almost certainly gritty, dealing with class and poverty. Your standard inner-city drama/thriller I’d say. Oh, and Gollum’s in it as someone called ‘Hoodwink’ who I’ll bet is a kingpin drug dealer or gang lord type. Three to One.

Just in case we hadn’t noticed this man’s out-of-placeness, the handheld DV flags it up for us. His eyes light on a series of grotesques and caricatures as his unease becomes ours. Directed by Gary Love. He is accosted in a market café by Ashley Walters out of So Solid who earned his stripes and showed his chops in Bullet Boy. Here he seems to be playing some demented delinquent version of himself again. Less world weary than his lead role in that film.

As the altercation ends we see our man did intend to meet this capering rood boy Caliban, so what is he up to? He’s clearly involved in something over his head, that much is clear from the office attire and the way he gazes up at the high rise tower block they come to. A visually striking crane shot presents the block as something more than poorly-planned social housing for a moment, it is Hockney or one of those great American print artists. Then we snap down to ground level and it’s just somewhere you hope you won’t have to live. Or visit. (more…)

Love In Thoughts/ Wäs Nützt die Liebe in Gedanken (von Borries, 2004. DE)

The defining image of Love In Thoughts is that of  a butterfly delicately balancing on the trigger guard of a cocked revolver. “Dear Universe,” writes our protagonist and thus begins a hazy elegy to youth and summer and a maligned land, suspended in a historically condemned time, where it is easy to forget young people who played no part in the last war and had not yet anticipated the next. Young people who must still come of age, regardless of politics, where the wealthy and the privileged still occupied unsullied, beautiful spaces.

This film is a visual poem, a dreamy recollection of a bygone age, in a land caught like a fly in amber. The written poetry, which weaves throughout-binding together snapshots, clearly loses something in translation, but the point is still clear- what is the value of a life lived in ideas?

Noble theories and poetic notions have their place, but they are a dream and the poet is a sleepwalker.

The delicate balance between the thoughts and actions of impetuous, idealistic youth mirrors the wider situation in Europe- precarious equilibrium; before the full might of the Soviets is reached, before a resentful Germany is sunk into a crippling depression. (more…)