Order Effects: Lanthimos and Nichols

Having just caught a preview of The Killing of a Sacred Dear, one brilliant detail that keeps you in suspense is not knowing the reality of the film.

Lanthimos’ previous films Dogtooth and Alps were both extreme and farcical in their own way but set in the real world. Then The Lobster made this absurd surrealism the reality in the film. In Sacred Deer, when a family are the subject of a superstitious hex, you have no idea what the film is capable of and so it throws off all expectation by making anything possible. So so very clever.

I experienced this same effect recently when watching Take Shelter by Jeff Nichols. Having watched his debut, the gritty realistic Shotgun Stories and then his more recent science-fiction Midnight Special before going back to the acclaimed Take Shelter – I had no idea of the reality of the film and it kept me guessing, and I think I enjoyed it all the more for it.

 

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It (2017)

An 80s style coming of age story set in Derry, Maine, a town where the kids go missing at a rate over 6 times higher than anywhere else. Stranger things have happened, and Stranger Things continues to happen as a bunch of dweeby kids become hero investigators, including one of the boys from STRANGER THINGS.

If Stand By Me (also adapted from a story by Stephen King) were Alien, this is Jim Cameron’s sequel, as a group of boys find a fuckload of dead bodies in the sewers.

For a film about a demon clown, the scariest moments are the most grounded – the malicious parents and school bullies. Perhaps this is because their actions and reactions are grounded in reality, whereas Pennywise’s strengths, weaknesses and triggers seem arbitrary. It gears up as though it’s related to fear but it matters not in the end, they say that it does but show that it doesn’t.

A shape-shifter that represents fear and preys on children much like Freddy Krueger, there are some huge references to A Nightmare on Elm Street, as in the bathroom scene, but it relies more on computer generated effects.

IT is a fun nostalgia film intercut with neutered horror scenes that somehow make it less scary.

The Party (2017)

Written for RAF News October 2017

A few friends have been invited to Janet’s soiree in her London home: a disaster barely waiting to happen. A host of clashing personalities all celebrating her ascension to Shadow Health Minister, on course to potentially leading the party, but for now she has a very different party to run.

In case it wasn’t clear that things are going to end badly, the film opens with Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) pointing Chekov’s gun right at us, then cutting backwards in time to the exchange of crocodile smiles and inane niceties before things inevitably turn sour.

With these opinionated ideologues now in an enclosed space, there is the catalyst of announcements: of promotion, pregnancy and the prognosis of death. Each now has a purpose to shout their worldview from their respective soapboxes.

Spiritualist life coach Godfrey (Bruno Ganz) sits cross-legged on the floor offering esoteric musings to each flawed dinner guest, though it only takes a gentle prod from his sarcastic wife (Patrica Clarkson) to expose the hypocrisy. Cillian Murphy’s suited banker is shaky and sweaty upon arrival, making frequent trips to the bathroom to find a clean corner of the bathtub to help keep his nerves unstable. All the while Janet’s husband Bill (Timothy Spall), a renowned Atheist Author, sits in a drunken stupor controlling the music in the most perfectly inappropriate manner.

The soundtrack is just one element of style that is added to this theatrical farce, presented in black and white and with camera angles that get right in the faces of it’s cast. Each addition of drama ratchets up the tension and brings out the comedy. We follow different pairings of characters to learn about the baggage that each of them has brought along.

The Party is quick and comical with a political subtext that makes it more relevant than ever. So swiftly are you thrown into the chaos that you can’t help but be engaged.

cinema

Snacking on too salty popcorn made all too available in this place, made perpetually and inconsolably hungry, I am interrupted by a delivery of posters. One tube is full of quads for the upcoming Jigsaw – the eighth in the series of glossy gore torture porn. As I try roll an elastic-band down the tube I papercut myself deeper than I thought possible, making a bloody muppet-mouth of my middle finger, a slice right across the crease of my top phalange. Back to work and my feverish snacking I see the popcorn box where I left it on the desk.

“DO YOU WANT TO PLAY A GAME?”

Wind River (2017)

Written for RAF News September 2017

When the body of a young girl is found barefoot in the thick snow of the Wind River Indian Reservation, the F.B.I. get involved. Agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) heads over to Wyoming from the Las Vegas department to investigate – as best she can in her unsuited clothes and car. Headstrong but inexperienced, she is really out of her element here.

With few police of their own in this large stretch of unforgiving terrain, Banner looks to Corey Lambert (Jeremy Renner), the hunter who discovered the body, to help find her way around. He knows the place, the people and the predators that lurk within. It seems the community are battling a world that doesn’t care about them, torn apart by drugs and delinquents.

What begins as a moody procedural however will quickly become an all-out action thriller in a whiplash-inducing change of pace. Details that are initially obscured will be explained fully and any attempts at making a serious dramatic point will be lost to Taken-style shootouts. This is a bizarre film that doesn’t know how seriously to treat its subject. Most serious of all is Corey, a man with a troubled past who has apparently learned much about the culture of Native Americans, taking every opportunity to high road others and pass on his wise words.

Wind River is written and directed by Taylor Sheridan, writer of Sicario and Hell or High Water, the latter of which really comes through here just without the balance of comedy. Other than the chief of local police, who is included for comedic relief but sidelined immediately, there are fleeting glimpses of humour that are practically apologised for.

Wind River is confusing in tone but still interesting to watch. You can’t help but feel that if it weren’t so serious it’d be fun; or if it weren’t so silly it’d be brilliant.

Final Portrait (2017)

Written for RAF News August 2017

At the point that we meet Alberto Giacometti in Final Portrait he is at his most self-critical. This is 1964 mind, so he has already achieved great acclaim as an artist and wads of cash can be found thrown about his studio between works-in-progress, but apparently success is the breeding ground for doubt.

At least this is what he tells James Lord, an influential critic and admirer who has agreed to model for one of his paintings. Assured that it would take no more than a few hours, Giacometti soon confesses that a portrait is never finished, that they are meaningless and impossible. Despite this Lord decides to stay it out, observing the artist observing him.

Battling doubt and distractions – his penchant for cigarettes and red wine or his obsession with wildfire prostitute Clementine (Clémence Poésy) – it becomes apparent that he is afraid of finality, so closely twinned with fatality. Clearly neurotic he romanticises suicide but begrudges that “you only get to do it once!”

Geoffrey Rush, who does share a likeness with the Swiss sculptor and painter, is superb casting, cantankerous with the flair and affectation of genius. His wry humour works perfectly with Armie Hammer’s clean-cut straight man in Lord. When he first begins painting he makes cutting observations of Lord, goading him with such a dry tone that you can’t be sure he’s joking. Sitting with the subject for the duration of these sessions, and with a great deal of silence, you share Lord’s frustration when no progress is made, or worse when it all starts again.

Taking place in this one location for the most part, it may seem more suited for stage but Stanley Tucci knows when to introduce music and change the pace, or where to put the camera, including one of the most stunning scene transitions involving a swimming pool and Chagall’s ceiling.

Final Portrait hinges though on the dynamic of the two central characters, the back and forth between artist and subject, and in this respect it is always funny and actually offers a profound insight on the creative process.

only human

First time I’ve broken a phone-screen this past weekend. The buttons I used to be so fond of meant that my handsets were quite sturdy so they survived constantly being dropped. Now I’m onto a touchscreen smartphone like the rest of the world, I sat on it awkwardly and broke it.

Fortunately I pay insurance for moments like this. Unfortunately insurance is a scam that has been designed to test me, my patience and my grip on reality.

Apparently 3 Mobile offer a 24 hour replacement service. However, if you’re account was opened by your mother 15 years prior and since then your attempts at changing the name and authorisation have been ignored or forgotten, this means a total of over 5 hours on the phone explaining your fictionally estranged family dynamic to various strangers through gritted teeth.

I treated each phone operator as opponents on successive levels of this arcade game and each ended phone call as Game Over – before having to start again, no cheat codes in the form of extension numbers.

Of all my burned phone-time – 10% was them repeating themselves (their advice and the process) 20% was me repeating myself (my problems and describing the ways that they should kill themselves) whilst 70% was being kept on hold, listening to the music carefully selected to calm me down, instead winding me up to the point of poisonous rage.

Hitting a wall I would receive the same Combo-breaking cool-down period in which I am forced to listen to Rag’n’Bone man as a buffer, explaining how these poor telephone operators are only human after all and that I shouldn’t put my blame on them – ‘some people have real problems’ apparently.

I am livid.

I am rage incarnate.

I could crush this phone in my hand but won’t for fear of having to repeat the process.

Now I’m fully aware that ‘hold music’ is calculated, that lyrics with the words ‘hold’ or ‘wait’ are swerved in order to not remind you of the length of time you are waiting, but this is a bit on the nose isn’t it? The audacity. I feel like each person who puts me on hold is giving me a time-out to think about how angry I’m getting – I can picture them leaning back in their chair wearing a smug grin, not even pretending to make any progress, poking and prodding me. I should appreciate these fuckers as gurus, they will bring me to enlightenment. Or at least they would if I could get past the violent fantasises.

The first operator was called Angelo. The second Michael. With enough time to ponder I see the connection. If the boss of the next level is called Leonard, Donna or Splinter, I’m going to start breaking things.

So now I’m three days without a phone and zero progress has been made.

Wooosaaahh