This month: “Ant-Man”, “Are You Here”, “Attenberg”, “Calamari Union”, “Cold Fish”, “Containment”, “Desperately Seeking Susan”, “The Devil’s Backbone”, “Good Bye, Lenin!”, “The Infinite Man”, “Inside Out”, “Look at What the Light Did Now”, “The Lovely Bones”, “Maggie”, “Magic Mike XXL”, “Mumblecore”, “My Life as a Dog”, “Porco Rosso”, “Starlet”, “The Talented Mr Ripley”, “Twin Peaks: The Missing Pieces” (pictured above) and “Two-Lane Blacktop”.
Other things I wrote else include “3,500 words on Vine”, a few less words in “A brief chat with the director of Meet the Hitlers”, a bit on “Why you should watch Mumblecore” and then “What I learned from Richard Linklater’s 80s film club”.
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Ant-Man (2015) – 5.5/10
Director: Peyton Reed
Writers: Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, Paul Rudd
Starring: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Michael Peña
“I’m more into Rothko.”
Detractors and defenders are fixated on what Ant-Man isn’t. The fans exaggerate the concept’s quirkiness (even though it’s still the same old Marvel film, just with a few distractions), while those yelling boo-urns obsess over Edgar Wright’s absence. And ant fans crying for it to be Ant, not Ant-Man, were invented for this paragraph.
Really, it’s just an okay superhero origin story, not the comedy heist movie advertised. While the misplaced tempo bugged me a times, particularly the dragging gags near the start, it’s passably business as usual; I felt I’d seen it all before, either in another Marvel instalment of 2001: A Space Odyssey. (That said, the macro photography was an “ooh!” moment, and the onslaught of ants will probably give me nightmares similar to what I experienced after Arrietty.)
I will, however, lay down some praise for Michael Peña, the only performer who seems to be given any jokes. Besides visual gags involving Thomas the Tank Engine (one of which was in the trailer, anyway), the comedy has been shrunk down until it’s barely visible. Don’t get me started on Michael Douglas offhandedly mentioning he has blue discs that either shrink or enlarge objects – “I’m sure it won’t substantially save the writers any headaches several times during the film,” he doesn’t say.
Still, when Ant-Man battles Falcon, it at least confirms you’d rather spend a film with Rudd, rather than the more conventional Avengers gang. It’s the standard Marvel defence: it should be better, sure, but it also could be so much worse.
Are You Here (2015) – 3/10
Director/Writer: Matthew Weiner
Starring: Owen Wilson, Zach Galifianakis, Amy Poehler, Laura Ramsey
“And believe me, I know what I’m talking about. I do the weather on TV.”
“That’s the thing about friendship; it’s rarer than love because there’s nothing in it for anyone.”
Matt Weiner, what happened? Seriously, I need to know what happened in the last episode of Mad Men because I missed it on TV. But on the subject of Are You Here, huh? Is this to make us appreciate Don Draper now you’ve taken him away forever?
As the Don Draper of showrunners, Weiner is seemingly perfect, backed with a stint on The Sopranos, but a crack of vulnerability is emerging. And, by that, I mean Are You Here, which – unlike Mad Men’s patient storylines – gets progressively worse and mundane as the clunkers add up.
Never quite gelling, Steve (Wilson) and Ben (Galifianakis) have supposedly been best friends for 25 years, yet behave like strangers. Ben’s stepmother Angela (Ramsey) is Steve’s love interest, without any chemistry in either direction, and Ben’s sister, Terry (Poehler), displays little conviction in her campaign for a greater stake in her deceased father’s property, yet. A running gag, in which Steve spies on a nude neighbour, suggests Weiner wasn’t saving the best stuff for his film side-project; he was collecting what was unusable for the writers’ room.
Attenberg (2010) – ?/10
Director/Writer: Athina Rachel Tsangari
Starring: Ariane Labed, Vangelis Mourikis, Evangelia Randou, Yorgos Lanthimos
“Deep down you’re an optimistic bourgeois modernist. Bonjour, bourgeois.”
Calamari Union (1985) – 3/10
Director/Writer: Aki Kaurismäki
Starring: Timo Eränkö, Kari Heiskanen, Asmo Hurula, Sakke Järvenpää
“I’ll tell Frank, Frank.”
Petty much a damp squid. (Because the title sounds like “calamari union”.)
Cold Fish (2010) – 4/10
Director: Sion Sono
Writers: Sion Sono, Yoshiki Takahashi
Starring: Mitsuru Fukikoshi, Asuka Kurosawa
“It’s payback for your childhood.”
Pretty much a damp squid. (Because the title sounds like… well, not “calamari union”.)
Containment (2015) – 5/10
Director: Neil Mcenery-West
Writers: Neil Mcenery-West, David Lemon
Starring: Lee Ross, Louise Brealey, Sheila Reid
For many antisocial Londoners, a nightmare scenario is being trapped inside an apartment building and thus forced to converse with the neighbours: why are the doors locked, and why are Hazmat suited figures circling the perimeter? That’s the intriguing hook for Containment that kicks in early on, aligning viewers with Mark (Lee Ross), whose family issues come into play later.
Also kicked in early is a wall, as the complex’s residents group together to decipher what’s going on. While there are adequate pleasures in guessing who can be trusted, particularly whenever anyone breaks in or out, less apparent is any sense of claustrophobia or being caught up in a wider conspiracy. A little bit of “what if?” stretched out to 90 minutes.
Still, it’s probably the kind of thing of small-scale thriller to watch on a plane – the kind of unhelpful criticism that would probably infuriate the director if he were to see this, but perhaps not if he’s reading it on a flight.
Desperately Seeking Susan (1985) – 7/10
Director: Susan Seifelman
Writers: Leora Barish, Craig Bolotin
Starring: Rosanna Arquette, Madonna, Aidan Quinn, Robert Joy
“…so then they thought I was a prostitute, and that was why I got arrested.”
Includes one of my favourite film moments: Madonna in a club, moving around to ‘Into the Groove’.
The Devil’s Backbone (2001) – 7.5/10
Original title: El espinazo del Diablo
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Writers: Guillermo del Toro, Antonio Trashorras, David Muñoz
Starring: Narisa Paredes, Eduardo Noriega, Federico Luppi
“Catalonia is about to fall. Then Madrid will fall. And then…”
It’s exactly like Pacific Rim, just with fewer robots and explosions.
Good Bye, Lenin! (2003) – 7/10
Director: Wolfgang Becker
Writers: Wolfgang Becker, Bernd Lichtenberg
Starring: Daniel Brühl, KAtrin Sass, Chulpan Khamatova
The Infinite Man (2015) – 7.5/10
Director/Writer: Hugh Sullivan
Starring: Josh McConville, Hannah Marshall, Alex Dimitriades
“It’s just a little rough patch…”
The introduction of Facebook’s timeline function led to old, embarrassing photos being a mere click away – a single mouse move could expose the excruciating faces, fashions, haircuts and attitudes of the terrible person that was you three years ago. Luckily, you can untag those photos (or just delete your account and live in the real world), but what if there was a more illogical, time-consuming way?
What if you could travel back in time and correct those errors? Go back to school and not waste time befriending classmates you’ll never speak to again. Redo university, just for the sake of it, without being a weird mature student. Or re-attempt a catastrophic anniversary date by the beach that went horribly wrong.
That final suggestion is the setup for Hugh Sullivan’s The Infinite Man, which I caught ages ago at London’s LOCO Comedy Film Festival. The sci-fi rom-com is light years ahead of recent time-travel features (Time Lapse, Looper, Interstellar) and has more in common with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in its autopsy approach to a dying relationship: Dean (Josh McConville), the time machine’s inventor, stares helplessly as various iterations of himself fail and succeed to rekindle the spark with Lana (Hannah Marshall). “Can’t we just go to the beach?” she asks. “This is a modern relationship,” he responds, strapping the time-travelling helmet to their foreheads.
It has more respect for its premise than the rather dire About Time, and it’s very funny. After their first attempt for a romantic getaway is interrupted by her ex-boyfriend Terry (Alex Dimitriades, surely a distant relative of Mark Ruffalo), Dean learns his more prominent obstacle is himself – namely, from the past and future. The Infinite Man follows the twisty logic of Primer, in that zipping through the time continuum creates a duplicate. But Sullivan’s script is the only recent example I can remember which make use of the concept’s reflective qualities, rather than as a catalyst for battling doppelgangers. Dean observes his future self’s behaviour and takes notes, so he can prove his worth to Lana. Yet that’s another issue: each journey produces another Lana. Can you love the same person when she’s from a separate timeline you yourself experienced a year before? Is it cheating to sleep with your girlfriend if she’s from a year in the future, having spent that year hiding in a hotel with the person you’ll become in the next year, provided the interference doesn’t change that reality? And can you understand anything I’m writing right now?
The natural humour is key: modern sci-fi splashes the cash at special effects, traversing fictional universes and centuries for the peak of mankind, yet these ingenious scientists mostly speak in trite cliches. (No one’s praising Ex Machina for the dialogue.) I was already audibly chuckling before the time-travel elements were introduced, and long into it – the laughs are layered on top, or because of, the chaotic timelines that mesh, with various Deans, Lanas and Terry running into each other. Unsure of which Dean she’s speaking to, Lana storms off mid-conversation exclaiming, “I’ve had enough.” Strangely, I can’t remember which Lana that was. I look forward to seeing it again, a year from today exactly.
Inside Out (2015) – 7/10
Director: Pete Docter
Writers: Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley
Starring: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Mindy Kaling, Lewis Black, Richard Kind
“Forget it, Jake; it’s Cloudtown.”
Sporty, Posh, Baby, Scary, Ginger. When Geri left The Spice Girls, five became four, which on the outside didn’t change much apart from marketing. To an extent, Inside Out hinges upon the same dynamics, whereby the human mind is made up of five emotions (Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, Disgust), but is in hidden disarray when Joy and Sadness vanish from HQ.
Despite a storyline about homesick teenager Riley and what’s been hyped as an “important” look inside the brain, Pixar’s latest largely amounts to an Alice in Wonderland adventure: a comic double act (one cheery, one dour) navigate through dreamscapes, trying to get from A to B before their 11-year-old owner rides a bus back to Minnesota. It’s mostly fun, sending Joy and Sadness through shape-shifting environments that explore animation’s creative possibilities, while sticking to the subject; the Picasso detour in the land of abstract thought is a highlight.
But fun also leads to fun…damental flaws, one of which is the focus on deliberately simplistic characters/emotions. Was I forgiving Joy’s annoying, patronising behaviour because I was instead remember Leslie Knope? And does that defeat the purpose of Joy, if I’m thinking of a three-dimensional character from a TV show? Also, the value of Sadness (as something other than inevitable) is distorted, as the supporting arguments – especially that being grumpy on a bench means your friends at school are extra nice to you – are unconvincing.
Is the final lesson, that you can’t have Joy or Sadness on their own, itself a commentary on its barely fleshed-out protagonists? There’s also something creepy about the way Riley is a robot whose buttons are pushed by CGI blobs, three of whom are redundant.
Still, I’m glad such a film exists, explaining to a young audience that Sadness is inevitable and part of growing up, and for parents to share the pain that their children’s personality islands will crumble when Anger and Disgust take over. Funniest moment: overhearing a mother on my row trying (and failing) to explain to her distressed son that Bing Bong didn’t die.
Look at What the Light Did Now (2006) – 6/10
Director: Anthony Seck
“I supported a lot of people’s dreams from the sidelines, and I really liked it there.”
Worth it for the 30 seconds of Chilly Gonzalez rapping.
The Lovely Bones (2009) – 2.5/10
Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Alice Sebold (novel)
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Rachel Weisz
“Of course it’s beautiful. It’s HEAVEN!!!!!”
From the insufferable writing team that brought you Lord of the Rings, here’s a cloyingly sentimental fairytale for grieving families in the “denial” section of the Kübler-Ross model. Every fussed over digital image made me want to vomit. If that’s heaven, please send me to hell – although in hell, they probably play this on repeat.
Maggie (2015) – 4/10
Director: Henry Hobson
Writer: John Scott 3
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Abigail Breslin, Joely Richardson
“She was smart.”
In more “Arnold” than “Arnie” mode, the Terminator turns serious for Maggie, a zombie movie that aims to rot away your heartstrings – although if it does so, it’ll be out of luring you to sleep first. Arnie – I mean, Arnold – is a unique actor with strengths and weaknesses I think we can all agree on. And by weaknesses, I mean any performances that don’t involve humour or imitating a robot. Here, he’s protecting Breslin, a young girl slowly turning into a zombie – her hair falls out, she smells meat when no one’s cooking, and it’s a lumbering metaphor that loses any pathos from the McBain-ness of Arnold.
Although every zombie story is about something, the likes of 28 Days Later and Shaun Of The Dead are still entertaining if someone’s eaten your brain and you’re only watching for the thrills. I also don’t think “hey, at least Arnie’s trying something different” works as a defence, either – especially if you remember his political career.
Magic Mike XXL (2015) – 7/10
Director: Gregory Jacobs
Writer: Reid Carolin
Starring: Channing Tatum, Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello, Kevin Nash, Adam Rodríguez, Gabriel Iglesias, Amber Heard
“Y’all had a crazy connection.”
The day I quit my job selling yogurt to become a drunk middle-aged woman.
Mumblecore (2011) – 8/10
Directors/Writers: Megan Boyle, Tao Lin
Starring: Megan Boyle, Tao Lin
“In movies, people don’t listen to songs on repeat. It seems funny to do it.”
My Life as a Dog (1985) – 7/10
Original title: Mitt liv som hund
Director: Lasse Hallström
Writers: Lasse Hallström, Brasse Brännström, Per Berglund, Reidar Jönsson (novel)
Starring: Anton Glanzelius, Tomas von Brömssen
Porco Rosso (1992) – 8.5/10
Director/Writer: Hayao Miyazaki
Starring: Shūichirō Moriyama, Tokiko Kato, Akemi Okamura
“Maybe I’m already dead – and life as a pig IS hell.”
It’s never really explained why Porco, an infamous fighter pilot, is a pig or why he has a moustache. Is it for the puns about being pig-headed? Or to do with pigs flying? Or an Animal Farm nightmare about capitalism expanding overseas? Whatever it is, the light surrealism glues together Miyazaki’s rich universe, a sty of witty quips, dashed romanticism, and a young heroine who outsmarts the condescending bozos around her.
When Porco risks capture by sneaking into a cinema, it strengthens the pig’s later penchant for sky-high showboating: compass circling around a rival during a duel, he won’t shoot down a pilot if there’s a chance of death. Of course, the duel only comes from old-fashioned values; pirates capture Porco, but agree he deserves a chance for salvation. There lies the film’s essence: aviation enthusiasts (Miyazaki included) gleefully surrendering to the art form.
Starlet (2012) – 6.5/10
Director: Sean S. Baker
Writers: Sean S. Baker, Chris Bergoch
Starring: Dree Hemingway, Besedka Johnson, Stella Maeve
“You can lose that fucking attitude, number one.”
The archetypal “whore with a heart” cliche is twisted into a porn actress who inadvertently steals thousands of dollars from an elderly woman, before secretly repaying that debt with a taxi service. Starlet is fortunately nothing like how you’d imagine from its quirky setup, (mostly) avoiding Sundance tropes through its understated character studies; 21-year-old Jane (Hemingway) never refers to her new 85-year-old acquaintance Sadie (Johnson) as a “friend”, or even bothers with an explanation. Sadie, on her end, doesn’t take long to give up the obtrusive questions.
Jane’s daily routine becomes increasingly monotonous, as her only responsibilities involve a tiny dog and helping a flatmate beat an Xbox game; always wearing sunglasses, she hides from the world while ironically flaunting all for the camera. Meanwhile, Sadie live alone, with only unsuccessful bingo games to fill out the time before she dies. Between those two depressive states of existential crises, there’s maybe an occasional trip to Paris.
Noticeably, little is made of Jane’s occupation – she’s practically falling asleep at a meet n’ greet event. It’s such a minor detail that Harvey Weinstein could easily cut off 10 minutes from the running time and leave her financial income a mystery. As it is, Hemingway observes the law of an introvert’s eternal boredom – she only laughs when hearing an anecdote about two pedestrians being struck by a wayward vehicle.
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) – 7.5/10
Director: Anthony Minghella
Writers: Anthony Minghella, Patricia Highsmith (novel)
Starring: Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Cate Blanchett
“If I could just go back…”
The Netflix one-sentence plot summary describes Tom Ripley (Damon) as a “young sociopath”, as if it’s more of a career than an infliction. Really, it’s both. Ripley represents the young go-getter: an outsider starring bitterly at the blithe rich kids who have it all. And that rich kid is Dickie (Law), a jazz hound with such impetuousness that he aspires to be both a saxophonist and a drummer.
The plot is a darkly comic series of twists and misshapen identities. Ripley assumes Dickie’s identity through a series of, er, talented impersonations, leaving the film to descend into eventual calamities – all in a rather entertaining fashion. The inevitabilities make the middle stretch a tad less effective than the riotous opening (Law’s snare-enthused conversation is delightfully obnoxious) and the final climax. Luckily, to make up for Ripley’s deadness, there’s always Marge (Paltrow) and Meredith (Blanchett) for much-needed humanity.
Twin Peaks: The Missing Pieces (1992) – 7.5/10
Director: David Lynch
Writers: David Lynch, Robert Engels
Starring: Sheryl Lee, Moira Kelly, Kyle MacLachlan
“What is the world coming to when you kill a man for baby laxatives?”
Shaped by Lynch into a giant missing piece (rather than several off-cuts), the deleted scenes of Fire Walk With Me still tell a surprisingly coherent story with cameos for all the town’s locals. After all, the few seconds of Laura’s screams behind heard by the Log Lady– an image full of tragedy and absurdity – sum up the entire show. Also included is an extra minute that follows the season two finale, as if Lynch had the answer but took 22 years to tell anyone.
Most devastating is the foreshadowing of an improvised message for Laura that lets her know everything will be okay: “The angels will return. And when you see the one that’s meant to help you, you will weep with joy.”
Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) – 6/10
Director: Monte Hellman
Writers: Will Corry, Rudolph Wurlitzer
Starring: James Taylor, Warren Oates, Laure Bird
“Do you want another hardboiled egg?”
An odd inspiration for Pixar, confirming that Christian Petzold is still the best director of cars.
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