Category Archives: film reviews

Sorry to Bother You, but you should defo see Sorry to Bother You

This is a film where, with some reservations, you should believe the hype.  From the bravura opening scene, where we see the desperate hero’s job interview lies get ruthlessly exposed, through to the deeply weird and unsettling climax, this socialist parable is a scabrous and strange attack on, well, almost everything.  Your jaw will be on the floor, your sides will ache. Meanwhile, you’ll learn some new shorthand for the way capitalism makes stooges and cowards of us all.   Oh, and there is eye-candy for whatever your tastes might be.

The basic plot: a young black guy needs a job.  He gets one with a dodgy telemarketing company.  Told (by Danny Glover, no less) to use his white voice, he quickly climbs the ranks.  But the “How to succeed in business without really trying” goes deeply awry, not because of his colleagues’ striking for better conditions but because… ah, that would be telling.  Suffice to say, shit gets weird, with allegory made flesh…  There’s an excruciating ‘rapping’ sequence, an animation film within a film that is Sesame Street on acid and… oh, I could go on.  It’s at least fifteen minutes too long, but you forgive it for its energy, its cynicism, its beauty.  Do not miss this film, which sits somewhere within all of the following:

Horror, bodies Get Out and The Fly

(Reality) television Series 7: The Contenders and They Live

Politics Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills, In Time, Elysium,

How on earth did this get made- Bulworth

Black politics/representations of blackness Soul Man, (and others, just can’t think of them right now).

Film review; Bag It

How many innocents lose their lives,
In the gloss of the packaging?

Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay, by the great British punk singer TV Smith.

bag itBag It is a good documentary, in the vein of Roger and Me (where Michael Moore tried to get a face-to-face interview with a General Motors chairman), Supersize Me  (where a now-disgraced film-maker ate nowt but McDonalds for a month) and No Impact Man (guy minimises his waste footprint).  A “naïve” (that’s evian spelt backwards) everyman begins by investigating plastic bags, and as he goes, the scope gets wider and wider.  Meanwhile, his partner is pregnant.

Along the way he speaks to various experts about plastics’ impact on wildlife (especially in the oceans – it’s in these scenes that one’s loathing for the human species in all its grotesque vandalism could get on top of a viewer), the human impacts (phthlatates  and bisphenol A , and the awful conditions for people in the so-called ‘developing world’ as they cope with Westerners’ waste) and the counter-attacks of incumbents (hello American Chemicals Council) in defeating efforts to price or regulate plastic bags.  Essential2living my fat arse.

There’s stuff on the horrific carbon footprint of the production of and transportation of bottled water, talking heads with Elizbaeth Royte of Garbage Land, Annie Leonard (The Story of Stuff), Peter Coyote  (who is a great activist as well as a great actor) and a bunch of different scientists whose day job is to catalogue the demise of the species and ecosystems that they love.

There are a couple of dud notes (the ‘I like my lettuce like my ladies – loose’ told with a  winking leer is clearly a pre- #metoo moment (though I will be using it with the long-suffering Wife). Would it have killed them to have given a shout out to Rachel Carson  who warned about ocean pollution and human impacts, or to namecheck Barry Commoner as the originator of the oft-repeated line ‘there is no ‘away’’.  More seriously (and predictably) the ‘what to do’ list is crushingly individualistic, atomistic, largely apolitical.  Despite the film containing several examples of the nefarious anti-democratic actions of corporations and their trade associations, there is nothing in the list about being an active (and organised) citizen, of contesting the grotesque and ecocidal power of the corporate lobbyists. So it goes.

Holy Moses or “There’s never an irony policeman when you need one”

We watched the documentary. Excellent if problematic, it was basically a morality play: a bunch of old white powerful men in a self-designed and policed echo chamber are eventually brought low by a scrappy band of diverse (gasp) women. And so immediately after the film there was to be a discussion. And a bunch of old white powerful men sat around and started to talk among themselves about their memories, while (BME) women watched on from the back of the room.

Reader, I. Am. Not. Making. This. Up.

There really never is an irony policeman around when you need one.

The documentary was Citizen Jane: Battle for the City, a skilfully made but partial hagiography of Jane “The Death and Life of American Cities” Jacobs, and the battles she fought – and won – with the infamous Robert ‘The Power Broker’ Moses. Moses was drunk on the sort of power that being part of the winning side in an World War gives you (planes, tanks and atomic weapons). Moses then planned to redesign New York City to his own particular purposes. Not captured in the film (one of its silences) was just how fantastically racist (even “by the standards of his day”) Moses was. This would have complicated the straightforward (largely white) narrative that got told. So be it. Anyway, Jacobs, a journalist and all-round good egg, fought Moses over his plans to drive a road through Washington Park in 1954. Then, a few years later, Moses had a hard-on for a Lower Manhattan Expressway. Jacobs and co beat him again.

The documentary then took a good turn – looking at the Chinese government’s falling-in-love with Moses’ technocratic dreams. It didn’t have time to explore the new resistance (e.g. the Shanghai maglev doesn’t make it from the airport to the city centre). There are other problems of course.

For a film that celebrates “diversity” it didn’t have that many non-white faces (though to be fair, it did have some). It didn’t historicise- would it have killed them to say who Moses’ hero was – Haussmann of Paris (instead we got heaps of Le Corbusier. Interesting, but, meh). It could have further contextualised Moses’ will to power (he was both a regime and a Nietzsche actor) by better referencing the chaos of the Depression and the “successes” of US planning and power during the war, and put it alongside the white heat of 1950s ‘successes’ (DDT, the space programme, blah blah), and also pointed to the collapse of that faith not just with Jacobs, but also the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War. But to be fair, this was a documentary that needed to have a Bad Guy and a Good Guy (well, gal). It wasn’t, after all, an Adam Curtis documentary. My rule of thumb of a documentary – do I feel I know enough, but do I still want to know more? The answer in this case is an emphatic yes.

Meanwhile, Jacobs instantly puts me in mind of Rachel ‘Silent Spring’ Carson (mentioned by one interviewee) and more latterly Elinor Ostrom. Moses harks back to Haussmann but also to a near contemporary, Robert McNamara, an equally ‘modernist’ figure who prosecuted the Vietnam War (3 million dead at the time, more since from land mines and defoliants etc) with the same gusto and the same playbook as Moses did the enemy ghettos of New York.

Back to the ‘discussion’. Would it really have killed any of the initial speakers to look around the room and say ‘hey, if we’re gonna have a discussion about diversity, it would help if we were all in a big circle. You don’t have to say anything if you join the circle, and you don’t have to move to be in the circle if you don’t want, but we can hardly honour Jacobs and the documentary-maker’s capital M Message about inclucivity if we don’t at least try to reshape the space for conviviality in the Illich sense, rather than a Powerful White Men get to Express-their-opinions-Way.’

Didn’t happen, at least while I was there: I then invoked the law of two feet. Also, I have a thesis to finish.

Film Review: The Mummy

mummy.jpg“The horror, the horror” said Kurtz.  He may have been talking about this film, which as a horror movie is a horror.

Tom Cruise is some sort of US army Indiana Jones (I’d love to see his job description) who stumbles on a tomb in Iraq of an Egyptian naughty daddy-killing and inevitably not-quite-dead princess, played gamely by Sofia Boutella. As you do  (contra the other negative reviews, I think they explain the Egypt/Iraq thing adequately).  Meanwhile, in London, the Crossrail tunnel excavation stumbles on a tomb of some crusaders who brought… back…

Oh look, you really don’t want to know.

There’s a lot of stumbling in this film.  Stumbling over cliches, stumbling over plot holes, stumbling over some of the most painful dialogue every committed to page/papyrus/stone tablets.

There is one indescribably bad scene involving Russel Crowe and some drugs which made me think that everyone involved in the writing, pitching, greenlighting, casting, directing etceteraing of this movie must have been on drugs.  And not good ones either.

It’s more boring than that Crossrail tunnel machine.  It’s cliches are older than the Mummy herself.  The lack of chemistry between the stars is startling.  NOTHING about this film works, not even the destroying bits of London stuff (London has and will be destroyed in far more satisfying fashion).  The tube tracks are missing its third rail, but that’s probably to stop the audience jumping in, a la Purple Rose of Cairo, to put themselves out of their misery.  There are scraps of rotten stuff falling off everywhere – I’m not talking about the Mummy’s artfully arranged bandages (no nipples please, we’re Puritans), I’m talking the vestiges of other films – American Werewolf in London, various zombie films, the aforementioned Indiana Jones.

The one glimmer, that there might be some useful ways of thinking about (female) sexual desire never comes to any kind of, erm, climax.  Other than it is Dangerous and Bad, and will lead either to the end of the world or having your life’s work stolen by some toothy ageing American.

You’ve wasted your time reading this review. I implore you, do not throw good time after bad.

Film Review: Love and Friendship

Not a huge Austen fan (that says more about me than her, perhaps?) but there were quite a few laugh-out-loud moments in this film, based on a novella that wasn’t published until 50 years after she’d snuffed it  (there IS a novella of hers called Love and Friendship, but the film is based on another – Lady Susan. Do keep up).

Whit Stillman , him of Metropolitan, Last Days of Disco etc directs with his usual aplomb and love of epigrams and too moral people colliding with those who either don’t get it or are actually monsters.  Kate Beckinsdale is great as Lady Susan, a (very) merry widow who trails destruction and seduction as she seeks suitable (stupid is fine, so long as they’re rich) suitors for herself and her daughter.  Chloe Sevigny is her equally amoral friend.  These two make Valmont look like a hand-wringing bleeding heart.  The supporting cast is just as good, and the guy playing the crushingly stupid (think Tony Abbott meets Donald Trump, only funny) almost steals the film.

The showing we saw, at the Mercury Cinema, had a useful context-setting pre-film speech by Kerryn Goldsworthy, and she led a good discussion afterwards. I mentioned the possibility of a Moll Flanders connection, but wish I’d suggested the possibility of a Dangerous Liaisons thing, given it came out ten years earlier and is a series of letters about seduction, money and manipulation….

If you like Austen, you may like a Reginald Hill short story in her style (homage/pastiche), a 20 years later ‘where are they now’ on Emma.

Other stuff I should  read –

New Yorker review

 Jane Austen and Empire – Edward Said

Nicholas Gruen “Why Adam Smith was to markets what Jane Austen is to marriage” in essay in best Australian Essays 2006.

Film Review: Nice Guys finish first, but a bit too slowly…

The film is worth your time.  You won’t emerge a better person, but there are some laughs, some excellent performances and nostalgia for “The Rockford Files”.  That’s a pretty good deal, I’d say.

nice-guysRyan Gosling and Russell Crowe are two men stumbling down mean streets in the ever-more-confusing and gritty (thanks to the pollution, both literal and metaphorical)  world of 1970s Los Angeles.  Gosling is Holland March , a mostly useless private eye whose wife died because of his ineptitude, raising a sassy (of course) daughter who is probably already smarter than him. Crowe, reprising his LA Confidential role of 20 years previously, is Jackson Healy, a thug who knows it but wants better of himself.  They bumble, as you do, into a conspiracy involving the government, pornography, auto-makers and some missing dames.

The director is  Shane Black, he of the Lethal Weapon films.  Given that this is another of those films about films (about films), part of the pleasure is spotting references.  It starts with a Brian De Palma “Blow Out” riff and the pace keeps up.  Black isn’t above referencing himself. especially the first Lethal Weapon (a widower in LA misfittedly teaming up with another bloke to crack a conspiracy. The film starts with a naked woman, and the investigation leads to a burnt out house, where a passing child gives them a vital clue. Only we live in less innocent times, and this one – a mid-teen at best – boasts about his penis size. Etc).  There’s a very funny riff on the two-guys-falling-into-a-swimming-pool from LW2, but that would be a spoiler).

As well as porno films, there are nods to blaxploitation, the paranoid thrillers of the 70s by Alan Pakula (Klute, Three Days of the Condor and especially The Parallax View).  There are explicit references to when Hollywood jumped the shark (Jaws 2) .  It brings to mind all those films about LA as dreamland and nightmare, a thriving sub-genre all the way from William Holden dead in the pool but narrating, through to  Chinatown,  Who Framed Rogber Rabbit,  the aforementioned LA Confidential (which was as sumptuous as this is clapped out),  Hail Caesar! and the recent and brilliantly unsettling Nightcrawler (my review here).

Black doesn’t stick to films – clearly loved the Rockford Files, the 70s TV show starring the late James Garner.  I spotted three nods – the gun in the cookie jar, the price of $200 plus expenses, and the newspaper adverts that Marchhas for his services.

What’s interesting (sort of) is just how much the actions of various women (not just the hilarious old lady who hires March) drive the plot. Far beyond just passing the Bechdel test, this movie has the men are reactive, trying to keep up and cover up.  This is true not just of the daughter, but also Kim Basinger (though to be honest, she can’t move her face these days; Russell Crowe gets to be fat and old, but still gets cast, eh #SmashthePatriarchy) and the missing and annoying but ultimately ‘right’ Amelia.

I won’t “spoil” the plot, but suffice to say it makes you look at the question of air pollution and corporate strategy in an interesting new light   Check out Penna and Geels, 2012.  The de-dramatising strategies here are quite, well, dramatic.

The films 20 minutes too long (the shoot-outs become a bit labored), and the end is never in doubt. Jake Gittes gets to have a rueful laugh about it all, rather than the gut-punch that Polanski gave you, but that’s not the end of the world.

 

Film Review: Hail “Hail Caesar”!!! Up there with LA Confidential, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Chinatown

Hail,_Caesar!_Teaser_posterFilms about the film industry, eh?  So arch, so damn knowing.  You know the ones I mean.

The Coen Brothers dance very very close, but as the numerous choreographed choreography scenes in this show – if you know EXACTLY what you are doing, and you hire the bets talent available,  and you’re lucky, you might get away with it.

They do, in spades.

Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is a high level fixer and problem-solver for Capitol (this matters) studios. It’s 1951 (this matters, as does everything in this wonderful film) and he has the usual run of emergencies and logistical nightmares to contend with.  He loves his job, but he can’t quit smoking, and he isn’t there for his biological family (the actors and directors are clearly his emotional family).

The film starts with him doing his job (preventing a minor scandal, paying off some cops), then confessing at 4am on one day.  He seems not to sleep between then and the end of the film, at 10am ish the following day.  All his crises (they overlap) happen on the hour, every hour.

This is a film about desire, duty, honour, passion, stupidity, cupidity, and – of course – artifice – the roles we play (willingly or unwilling, witting and unwitting) and the choices we make (by making them or not making them).

Oh, did I mention that it is downright hilarious, enjoyable, witty and, yes, knowing?  Tilda Swinton stands out (because, I mean, she’s breathing -duh), but Brolin is amazing, as is Alden Ehrenreich).  Frances McDormand is in only one scene, but it’s a doozy.

SEE THIS SUMPTUOUS FILM.  It’s up there in the “films about Los Angeles” with LA Confidential, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Chinatown  (but far less depressing than the last of that list.  This is, after all, Hollywood, when a Catholic, a Protestant, an Orthodox Christian and a Jew could ‘debate’ a film script, and “Herb” Marcuse could be surprised by a Danny Kaye anecdote.

PS – this from wikipedia

Audiences were unenthusiastic about the film. Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of “C−” on an A+ to F scale. 52% of the opening day audience were males while 84% were over 25, with both demographics giving the film a “D+” grade, while those over 50 years old gave the film a grade of “D−”.[67] On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a rating of 46% from audiences.[3]

confirms my hunch that People Are Morons.