Month: July 2017

Maudie (2017)

Written for RAF News August 2017

Maud is a passionate artist with arthritis and a bad leg, eager to get out into the world and free from her aunt’s care to make a life for herself.

Idly looking over paint cans in the store she hears the grunts of an inarticulate local wanting to put up an ad for a housekeeper. This is Everett Lewis, a stubborn and neanderthal-like man who has trouble communicating at all, much less show compassion.

The film looks at how these two opposing personalities come together, as Maud gently forces her way into his life initially as his live-in maid, bringing with her warmth and colour, painting the walls and windows of his humble shack as a perfect metaphor.

Maud has a romantic outlook on the world best encapsulated in her paintings that take the best from all seasons. Sally Hawkins is utterly transformed bringing this real folk artist to the screen: posture shrunken down with her shoulders brought in though her smile remains permanent. Hawkins is artful at magnifying small personal victories through her infectious smile, a trait reminiscent of her break-out role in Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky but Maud is a little more meek, on the surface at least.

Ethan Hawke plays against type as Everett, so often the sensitive one it’s hard to believe his masculine posturing. Everett is shown as gruff and aggressive, hard on Maud from the outset and reluctant to hire her in the first place. It’s clear that that his hostility comes from feelings of inadequacy and yet Maud never really has her moment. We see him grow passive to her, a comedic way of relaying that things have changed in the household. She cooks and cleans as required but continues to paint simply because he never tells her to stop. Whilst it is interesting to avoid the obvious moments, having Everett’s tenderness or understanding occur off-screen makes it hard to sympathise with.

In all Maudie is a little slow and perhaps deservedly heavy on sentiment, with a relationship that is quite hard to engage with, but Hawkins performance is a triumph.

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B12

Finally acknowledged the hypocrisy and given up meat. I’ve always liked animals and turns out that it takes very little to keep more of them alive, just eat less of them. Or don’t eat them at all, eat something similar.

Anyways, this alignment of my actions and ideals has synchronised perfectly with some brilliant films released this year, listed below as supplementary recommendations:

Raw

Favourite film of the year so far, no question. Wrote a review/ analysis available here – but would advise to watch it without knowing anything. Dark, funny and stylish.

Okja

Bong Joon Ho’s Netflix released political satire takes the form of a fantasy adventure film. This one is dark and funny but in separate blows, which in turn have huge consequences. Big dose of stylism too. A unique and fascinating watch.

Carnage

TV film that is a little more on the nose with it’s points and pretty effective for it. Made me give up milk anyway.

(I used to love drinking milk like an infantilised film villain and didn’t know how it was procured. So fuck it – Hazelnut milk tastes great by itself and Soy goes fine in coffee.)

 

Bonus revisit:

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

 

Iconic horror film that has a sly meat is murder subtext going on.

Scribe (2017)

Written for RAF News July 2017

The opening of Scribe might seem like a joke, an office-worker is told by his superior that he needs a file ready for morning – cue a montage of paperwork and filing but cut together as though it were an espionage thriller. The strangest thing about this is: it works.

François Cluzet (The Intouchables) is stressed-out filer Mr Duval, knocking back whiskey between staples in this introduction. Two years later he is on the wagon and off the payroll, looking for work to distract him from his addiction.

Interviewed by the mysterious Clément (Denis Podalydès) for a private security firm, he is asked about the gap in his employment and his political standing. The work, it turns out, is to transcribe conversations from tapped phones, requiring the utmost discretion. Clément apparently has a visual memory and distrusts digital technology and so requires someone to type out every word on a typewriter and without mistakes.

Offered a decent salary Duval accepts the job but the confidential nature is stressed to the point of suspicion. Each day he must enter an apartment, listen to tapes and type up what he hears, leaving the pages to be collected without ever having contact with anyone. With no friends or family apart from his AA group, Duval is a loner, so when he eventually hears a phone-call that is disturbing, he has no-one to turn to.

In fact a lot of the scenes take place in large locations with only Duval or one other, from his apartment to a conference room or even a stadium. This could be a thematic motif of a small fish in a big pond, isolated from the world around, or maybe just a way to save on extras. Either way it is clear from the off that things are not going to turn out well. The original score sounds a lot like a muted Phillip Glass with a circus kind of mania about it – this is a slippery slope into a dark political underworld.

There are obvious touches of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation but the analogue tapes and reels have been smoothed out and the film has its own clear and clean style. What is so impressive is how the shots of Duval typing alone are made to be engaging, exciting almost. It is when the plot inevitably thickens that it also becomes forgettable, as the story itself is unconvincing and of little interest in the end.

Dunkirk (2017)

Written for RAF News July 2017

Dunkirk is not what you might expect if you somehow you hadn’t heard about it already. Don’t expect a typical story, this is white-knuckle experience of the desperate fight for survival.

It shows the infamous Dunkirk evacuation from three different perspectives: Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) one of the many troops stranded on the beach, Mr Dawson (Mark Rylance) captaining his own personal boat out to bring them home, then there’s Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Collins (Jack Lowden) two spitfire pilots protecting those on the ground. Surrounded on all sides with Messerschmitt’s raining fire from above, the squaddies are forced to wait up to a week with their backs to the sea, those on the water are left exposed for a day, and the airforce have only an hour of fuel.

These different experiences are wrapped together with the same frantic and frenetic intensity, cutting through time and leaving you without a moment to unclench. You can see why its Christopher Nolan’s shortest film since his debut – there’s no way you could keep this pace up. It’s exhilarating to the point of exhaustion.

Using a young and largely unknown cast for the soldiers on the beach, except of course the debuting Harry Styles who isn’t half bad, you are forced to consider how young and inexperienced these soldiers were. Their fear and desperation is magnified when shown huge stretches of shoreline, hundreds of thousands of British and French soldiers with nowhere to go. Shot completely in large format, and mostly on IMAX cameras, the beautifully vast coast of Dunkirk becomes a symbol of vulnerability and hopelessness.

Amidst the chaos though we have the calming presence of Mark Rylance, a compassionate civilian intent on getting over the Channel with two young boys to do his bit. When warbirds roar overhead he reassures the boys, and the audience, that this sound should be reassuring – the Rolls Royce Merlin engine of the greatest plane ever engineered. But no sooner are we told to relax than we are thrust into the cockpit to experience a dogfight first hand.

Nolan’s fondness for practical effects mean that a lot of stunts are happening for real, dozens of real ships in the water, shot with cameras mounted on real spitfires – and you feel the weight of it. The dislocation of chasing a target through the clouds and the deafening rattles of gunfire. Masked and muffled (and with a similar coat) you can make out just a little more of Hardy than his turn as Bane, but this isn’t about coherence, in fact it’s just the opposite.

Dunkirk is a joyful assault on the senses that fills you with a welcome dose of suspense and adrenaline. A cleverly made epic that is deceptively complex.


Personal Opinion Sidebar: I was lucky enough to see a preview of Dunkirk at the IMAX in Waterloo – the largest screen in Europe. I understand the song and dance being made about seeing it in this format because it is shot precisely for this format, for the experience. I saw Interstellar here for this reason.

The difference is I could watch Interstellar on a phone* and still take something from the story, whereas I feel Dunkirk, being an experiential film is made for this set-up. It clearly did what it set out to do, to an extreme, but I’m not sure what else is to be found here. Maybe I’m wrong but I have no intention of watching the film again. Fun though ay.

*Just to be clear, I would never. I swear to Lynch.

It Was 50 Years Ago Today! The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper & Beyond (2017)

There have been countless documentaries made about The Beatles. Martin Scorsese made a 3 and half hour film about George Harrison. George for fucksake. Ron Howard just released 8 Days A Week earlier this year, covering the US tour and Shea Stadium, and now It Was 50 Years Ago Today picks up in where Howard left off, though with a good half hour of overlap, focussing on the release of one of the most important albums of all time: Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band.

Sketch show Portlandia had an episode parodying this idea, based around Fred Armisan wanting to make a Beatles documentary despite their being so many already and not having the rights to play any of the music. This joke becomes reality in 50 Years as no music was cleared and so you have to put up with a smattering of bored and boring talking heads.

With so much ground covered over and again, the film focuses on a short period of time in the life of The Beatles and examines it in great detail – this it does to an extreme for better or worse. It looks at the context from which this groundbreaking record was birthed: a concept album fronted by alter-egos, influenced by psychedelia and Indian mysticism as well as a kind of carnivalesque surrealism – there’s a lot to unpack here, and yet it does this without ever playing any of the music.

There is a great deal about the development of the album’s style and sound, to a microscopic level in some respects. Presumably this documentary is made for those who have a fondness for The Beatles equal to the filmmaker, having memorised the catalogue and wanting some broader understanding or interesting trivia. There are some really interesting bits of information that root some of the iconic imagery – McCartney’s growing of a moustache to cover a broken tooth that he got from a motorbike crash, or Pete Best’s lending of his medals for the album cover shoot.

It begins with territory well trodden but steers it into the more obscure showing revelry for the bands abilities and achievements leading to Sgt Pepper. In surprising fairness though, it shows the group coming undone in it’s wake – trying to reach outside their grasp with an apparent naiveté, from wanting to run a fashion boutique to their own school.

Despite these efforts the documentary appears limited to those who already have an obsession with The Beatles and don’t mind hearing an album meticulously described without hearing so much as a note.

nirvanna

Thanks to a tip from YMS I have found a new obsession in the work of Matt Johnson and in particular Nirvanna the Band the Show. The below video I have watched many many times, and I still laugh. Every time. I have no idea if it’s niche and not for everyone because of I find it so funny.

The show that they often pitch as Flight of the Concords meets Ali G, is put this way to try and communicate the plot and style respectively: two idiot best friends trying to make it as a band, immersed in the reactions of real people.

It’s a narrative show, there are episode arcs and themes and call backs, but a lot of it seems shaped by real events and interactions with real people. This remains ambiguous for the most part, which is its beauty. Or sometimes there are just real moments in contrived situations between Matt and Jay themselves. They could be pretending to fight and start to laugh, and the sincerity is noticed and kept it.

It is also drenched in film references, some hideously more obscure than others – which makes it all the more personal and rewarding when you watch. I’m not sure if it feels exclusive or in-jokey to those who don’t get any of its references, but this makes it so appealing to me, even when I’m excluded. With mainstream comedy being so broad by its very definition, it’s great to see something that’s not afraid to alienate by referencing or even building a story around some tiny insignificant detail that few are bound to pick up on. It is fast paced, self aware and self referential which reminds me a lot of Rick and Morty.

I have turned into an evangelist for this show, passing it on to people I know will love it. On more than one occasion they have mistakenly started watching the original web series that was made 10 years earlier when Matt and Jay were recent graduates AND YET they didn’t mind the scrappiness and loved it the same. I just went back and watched this 10 part series and really enjoyed it for the same reason I like the Viceland series – it is well crafted and has an arc that plays out over the series (which apparently they will be doing more of in seasons 2 & 3 which which will be coming soon).

Watch this show, the Viceland one, it’s brilliant. Then pass it on, this deserves to be seen.