This week’s releases: “Avengers: Age of Ultron”, “Baisers voles”, “Gerry”, “Gold”, “Hiroshima mon amour” (pictured above), “It’s a Disaster”, “Lost River”, “The One I Love”, “Reds”, “Remains of the Day”, “La ronde”, “Songs from the Second Floor”, “A Summer Story” and “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me”.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) – 5.5/10
Director/Writer: Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgård, James Spader, Samuel L. Jackson
UK theatrical release: 23 April 2015
“It’s been a long day – like, Eugene O’Neill long.”
The phrase “In Joss We Trust” has caught on faster than “In The Russo Brothers We Trust” because it’s easier to fit onto a t-shirt, and due to the superior direction of the two Avengers outings when placed side by side with Captain America: The Winter Soldier (as I’m sure some do in their living rooms). Age of Ultron is, from the first scene onwards, closer to real action than the whatever-ness of other Marvel releases.
Whedon recognises what audiences want: a gigantic blockbuster that juggles a bunch of zigzagging superheroes in a confined space. The usuals are back. Iron Man (Downey Jr) is borderline depressed, although strangely no longer an alcoholic. Thor (Hemsworth) is a gigantic, hammer-waving Norse God who may be responsible for two unwatchable films, but is effective as a visual punchline. Captain America (Evans) still looks bored, as does Hawkeye (Renner), who’s comforted by Lindsay Weir that his arrows aren’t that effective. Natasha (ScarJo) and Bruce Banner now show hints of romance, fuelled by nicked fury and sympathy for the green devil – all played out in concise snippets, such is the speed of the character moments.
Aside from The Dark Knight (which had more bad one-liners that you remember), superhero films shouldn’t take themselves too seriously. Age of Ultron has a sense of humour, even during its destruction of buildings (the ones missed by Superman), and excels when the Avengers are just chilling out, drinking beer and being goofy: it’s the rare mainstream action film that’s actually kinda funny in between the explosions. While not as overtly comedic as Avengers Assemble, there’s the right weight to the serious smash-y stuff.
Yet that smash-y stuff isn’t all smashing. The new villain, Ultron, is a James Spader-voiced AI that – like every other film in cinemas with a robot – turns on mankind and must be stopped. Ultron is an effective villain, indirectly inheriting the sleaziness of Sex, Lies & Videotape, but with so little screen presence that I forgot he/it/whatever was there at times. When these comic book universes keep building up character stories, film after film, it’s the temporary enemies that are comparatively flat and undeveloped, and could be improved by a giant gang of evil supervillains with their own ways of destroying the world and unfurling misery upon innocent strangers – like Margin Call.
Fresh air comes from the hasty introduction twin duo of Scarlet Witch (Olsen) and Quicksilver (Taylor-Johnson) who are so bizarre, it doesn’t matter if their background stories are rather dull . (“He’s quick, she’s weird,” Maria Hill (Smulders) sums up, not really getting the irony that she’s even less descriptive on paper.) Quicksilver, who performs the same high-speed circus act as his other twin did in Days of Future Past, is fun, to a certain extent.
However, it’s Elizabeth Olsen who steals the film as Scarlet Witch, a rare superhero whose powers are an extension of her personality, rather than a computer programme or eating a radioactive bug. Her idiosyncratic aura is always felt – not just in the rays emitting from her hands, but her telekinesis that has a similar strangle on the audience. I have very little comprehension what she actually does – especially when she does that jump cut thing from The Ring – but she emotes with radioactive grace.
Part of Olsen’s impact is shaking the norm. These characters are no longer fresh, with much of the novelty worn off from Avengers Assemble and how often they appear in each films. Samuel L Jackson, in particular, looks like he no longer gives a fuck. The injection of new life (apart from Ultron) is a welcome sign, as long as Marvel can find replacements more along the lines of Whedon than the Russos. When the action’s truly working, it’s more effective than Raimi’s Superman 2 at exploring heights, depths and whooshing vertigo. But when it’s anything but extraordinary, the sights are familiar and, while fun, feel a little Eugene O’Neill long.
Baisers voles (1968) – 7/10
English title: Stolen Kisses
Director: François Truffaut
Writers: François Truffaut, Claude de Givray, Bernard Revon
Starring: Jean-Pierre Léaud, Claude Jade, Delphine Seyrig
“Making love is a way of compensating for death. You need to prove you still exist.”
Before sequels were frowned upon, Truffaut followed up The 400 Blows with a reminder that running along a beach isn’t a life-changing event. Antoine has instead turned his persistent stare away from the camera and towards women; his failed dalliances join numerous part-time jobs for temporary relationships that end poorly. But he’s now a lovable comic figure can be stretched into slapstick detective subplots, while also conveying genuine comfort at being informed by a beautiful older woman that all snowflakes are unique.
Gerry (2003) – 8.5/10
Director: Gus Van Sant
Writers: Casey Affleck, Matt Damon, Gus Van Sant
Starring: Casey Affleck, Matt Damon
With Casey subbed in for Ben, the Good Will Hunting duo reunite for an existential episode of Beavis & Butthead; Affleck and Damon chuckle about videogames, Wheel of Fortune, and how an alternate trek route is fine because “everything’s gonna lead to the same place”. Not quite.
Often all that can be heard is the pitter-patter of mindless footsteps, trudging through the desert, while the landscapes shifts shape and colour. Without any signs of humanity, they’re doomed to continue not existing. The delayed punchline – one of those “you’ve got to be there” jokes – sees the duo with plentiful time to confront mortality, friendship, and a lifetime of greatest, but have nothing to say.
The humour is as dry as the desert, with a touch of Samuel Beckett when Affleck lives out a one-man play atop a giant boulder.
The delayed existential punchline is that they have all this time to confront their mortality, their friendship, their lifetime of regrets – and yet they’ve nothing to say. The dark humour is as dry as the desert, but never dull; misty skies and assortment of camera angles find mesmerising poetry in a landscape untouched by humans. He can’t explain how he reached those heights – or how how he even found the rock – but he accepts it and moves on. There’s a lesson there somewhere.
Gold (2014) – 4/10
Director: Niall Heery
Writers: Brendan Heery, Niall Heery
Starring: David Wilmot, Maisie Williams, Kerry Condon, James Nesbitt
“Dad says true champions rise above physical pain.”
Being a parent is a bit like winning a marathon, which sometimes requires swallowing a few illegal boosting substances. That’s the case for Williams, a young daughter willing to impress her family at any cost; and also for Wilmot, whose suicide attempt led to him drifting away into agonising loneliness. Upon his return more than a decade later, he’s been usurped by a PE teacher (Nesbitt’s incredibly unfunny go-getter). It’s all rather standard fare that gets by, strangely, with a lack of ambition (sometimes absent jokes are preferable to clunkers) and promise it might get better. Like life, it never does.
Hiroshima mon amour (1959) – 9/10
Director: Alain Resnais
Writer: Marguerite Duras
Starring: Emmanuelle Riva, Eiji Okada, Stella Dassas
“I’m so miserable. I wasn’t expecting this at all.”
You’re a journalist at a roundtable preparing to interview the concept of war. You pick up your Dictaphone and whisper, “War – how could this happen, and how does one recover?” These questions are rotated in the ether by Resnais during his perplexing exploration of memory and intangibility of love. The meaning, which shifts and evolves every few minutes, is layered with the complexity one wouldn’t expect from two anonymous characters – but they’re both relatable, albeit distanced metaphors, with the poetic rapport of a first date in hell.
Riva (who recently earned acclaimed for Haneke’s similarly titled Amour) plays a French actress spending a final day in Hiroshima, which brings back memories of a doomed romance she had during WWII with a German soldier. “I lie,” she admits, “and I tell the truth.” Pain lingers, and so do past relationships entangled with recollections of the Hiroshima bombings. “You saw nothing in Hiroshima,” she is repeatedly reminded, while the non-chronological editing proves and disproves the notions. “I saw everything,” she insists. “Everything.”
The catastrophe, after years of breathing space, is an incident everyone believes they can forget, but can’t. It still plagues the mind of a Japanese architect, who meets the actress and swaps mental notes. She empathises with the victims, partly from a childhood incident in Nevers, and through a mutual human condition: the pair’s instant connection, like memory, transcends logic. In fact, they simultaneously converse like strangers, old friends, and past lovers. All it takes is a hand gesture for her to talk to him as if he’s her dead German partner – like museum visitors understanding the value and pain of Hiroshima’s reconstructions, the discordant images are already etched permanently into the memory.
It’s a Disaster (2013) – 5.5/10
Director/Writer: Todd Berger
Starring: Rachel Boston, Kevin M. Brenna, David Cross, Julia Stiles
Tracy: “I never went scuba diving. I never went to the ballet. I’ve never been in love. I’ve never even watched The Wire.”
Glenn: “All of those things are overrated. Except for The Wire – that’s really good.”
Ostensibly an apocalypse comedy, It’s a Disaster shares more DNA with The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeois. The world is collapsing outside, but three couples won’t allow impending doom to ruin their brunch. The cast find chemistry in petty arguments and comic wordplay, but the housebound humour turns cliched and predictable. Not really ambitious enough to ever become a disaster.
Lost River (2015) – 7/10
Director/Writer: Ryan Gosling
Starring: Christina Hendricks, Iain De Caestecker, Matt Smith, Saoirse Ronan, Eva Mendes
“Help me break the spell.”
The One I Love (2014) – 4/10
Director: Charlie McDowell
Writer: Justin Lader
Starring: Mark Duplass, Elisabeth Moss, Ted Danson
“In all fairness, sometimes you’re a bitch. But it’s okay, because I’m an asshole sometimes. That’s okay to say, right?”
Ted Danson is someone you trust when he’s Sam Malone, pouring you a pint and calling you Diane. But here he’s under the guise of a suspicious counsellor who sends Moss and Duplass away from a weekend getaway to recapture some old magic – a phrase which is dumb on its own, let alone actually trying to achieve it. While the plot sounds like the kind of Sundance trash you’d actively run away from, it’s actually a different Sundance cliche: a low-budget indie hoping to be the next Primer.
For whatever reason, the pair find new versions of themselves inside the house. The developments are entirely never interesting, primarily because the characters – including the duplicates – aren’t interesting either. The story flirts with sci-fi conventions without anything new to say. And nor does it find any consistencies, as seen when Duplass runs into an invisible forcefield that’s insulting to any viewer who started with an open mind.
Reds (1981) – 7.5/10
Director: Warren Beatty
Writers: Warren Beatty, Trevor Griffiths
Starring: Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson
“The workers do all the work, don’t they? Well, what if they got organised?”
The faults within the Oscar voting process was made abundantly clear when Silver Linings Playbook somehow snapped up nominations in the four main acting categories. Apparently that accolade hadn’t been achieved since Red, in which every scene is a knowing “acting masterclass”. It’s the kind of actor’s film that has Jack Nicholson in support as a wisecracking portrayal of Eugene O’Neill: “You dream that if you discuss the revolution with a man before you go to bed with him, it’ll be missionary work rather than sex.”
The main revelations are Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton as two intellectuals who give up everything for a revolutionary cause. Their love sometimes gets in the way, but it’s ultimately strengthened by two minds fighting against the world and its capitalist evils. Hey, that’s something to do on a rainy day.
Remains of the Day (1993) – 4/10
Director: James Ivory
Writers: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Harold Pinter, Kazuo Ishiguro (novel)
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, James Fox
A thrill per decade.
La ronde (1950) – 7.5/10
Director: Max Ophüls
Writers: Louis Ducreux, Kurt Feltz, Jacques Natanson, Max Ophüls, Arthur Schnitzler (novel)
Starring: Simone Signoret, Danielle Darrieux, Fernand Gravey
“When love’s coming, they all dance to the same tune.”
Love is a rollercoaster, you’ve just got to… make an artful movie visually using that metaphor for 90 minutes. Ophüls directs via a narrator – part magician, part private detective – who spins a fairground ride in between connected love stories. The structure operates as a daisy chain that slyly proves love – or lust, as the film suggests – is the force that overcomes class boundaries. It’s very funny and romantic, mainly down to outlandish set mechanisms.
Songs from the Second Floor (2000) – 5/10
Original title: Sånger från andra våningen
Director/Writer: Roy Andersson
Starring: Lars Nordh, Stefan Larsson, Bengt C.W. Carlsson, Torbjörn Fahlström
“Aren’t we worth it, when we’ve worked so hard?”
Just doesn’t click with me.
A Summer’s Tale (1996) – 8/10
Director/Writer: Éric Rohmer
Starring: Melvil Poupaud, Amanda Langlet, Gwenaëlle Simon, Aurelia Nolin
“Some people lose out with age. Your kind improves.”
I’m inclined to label this nostalgic knowing Rohmer’s age, after many decades of making the same sort of dialogue-heavy anti-romances: several beautiful women talk to the same man, who is befuddled by the options and his own ethical code. But the young male of A Summer’s Tale doesn’t just philosiphise his physical urges; he’s also a naive teen in a cloud of “I’m an above-average musician” denial, punctuated by a straight-talking waitress who steals the film with a shared unspoken chemistry. A romantic comedy without the bullshit, basically.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992) – 9/10
Director: David Lynch
Writers: David Lynch, Robert Engels
Starring: Sheryl Lee, Moira Kelly, Kyle MacLachlan
“Your Laura disappeared.”
Despite Lynch’s fleeting involvement with the second season of Twin Peaks, he was still responsible for the two best episodes – thusly known as the twin peaks of Twin Peaks. The show’s darkest territory was explored in those two instalments – one about incest, the other about sacrifice – which are explored fully and ruthlessly in a bleak prequel that maps out the final week of Laura Palmer snorting away her life.
What’s more bizarre than seeing Laura speaking backwards in the Black Lodge is seeing Laura as a living, breathing adolescent. Her teen troubles, however, are deeply tragic for all we know about her eventual fate – not only will she be murdered by her father, but that death will bring the end to her secret suffering. The black comedy of the show is pushed aside like a log, as Lynch delves into the less quirky aspect of the town’s evil spirits. Rather than supernatural disturbances, it is Laura’s fear of her father as a sexual monster than manifests in paintings, nightmares, and a self-inflicted cocaine addiction to destroy “Laura Palmer” before Killer BOB gets a chance.
Laura, afraid of her own bedroom, needs the drugs and sex for any escape from Leland – the man, now a physical entity, is more terrifying than any of the demons in Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire put together. Her grisly end bears so many traces of Saw and Funny Games, she requires a deus ex machinafor salvation. Like The Straight Story and The Elephant Man, it’s a reminder that Lynch genuinely believes in angels. The final moments are so heartbreakingly beautiful, I’m almost convinced too.