Lying and Bargaining

Opening the boy’s curtains of a morning I knocked over a twee little plant pot and broke it. He obsessed over this and kept voicing how I had broken the plant, accusing me, dobbing me in to a jury of plush toys. I tried to have him keep it a secret between us, coaching him to say that he didn’t know who broke it – and then I proceeded to interrogate him playing the role of mother. But rather than say he didn’t know he blamed it on a pirate. Saying that a he had come in and sliced the plant with his sword. Such imagination, the deceptive little bastard. Touche.

A day or so later I see a scratch on his head, I ask him what happened and he tells me that a dinosaur bit him, which is unlikely, and I’m realising that I’ve taught him to lie – but at least he’s doing it creatively.

In the last week or so I’ve noticed another jump in his language development and sentence-forming. He talks for stretches about one subject and is able to convey meaning, clearly emotionally involved in his stories. The other night I picked him up from nursery and driving home I asked what he wanted to do when we got in. Milk. Okay and do you want a biscuit? Loadsa biscuits. No you get one biscuit. Two biscuits. No, one biscuit. Big big big biscuit.

I might be projecting a bit here but I see the cogs turning, how he looks for loopholes, using his understanding and experience to get what he wants, or at least to try to. I’m learning a lot from this guy.

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I rang my phone company to ask if I was due an upgrade. Two years overdue apparently. I knew it was an old phone but hadn’t quite figured. This phone, as it turns out, was the last-ditch effort to fend off the Minority Report future of screens and holograms: a Blackberry Classic, Classic in as much as it has a keypad. Alas now it is relegated and no more.

I had defined myself by it in some way, I had to. Inadvertently it had become a statement phone moving from an office into work with a younger crowd, who laughed and scoffed as though I had pulled out a pager or an unwieldy butt-plug – fucking millennials and their in-group conformity.

The reason for liking buttons, not just a dialpad but an entire QWERTY keypad replete with symbols and signs, is the feeling of permanence when you type, the analogue feeling of having performed an action with a beginning and an end. Swiping and screen-typing feels so perfunctory and pathetic, each action blurring into the next and just asking be ignored. The physical intersection, my fingertip pressing into the phone, as opposed to bouncing off of a flat surface, feels more real.

At least these were the thoughts and feelings that I told others and myself as I resisted the screen-based future that steadily proved itself inevitable. Even Noddy has himself an iPad for fucksake. Now I’ve upgraded to an old touchscreen which costs nothing and my bill has been cut in half. That was what motivated me but now I realise that the typing mechanism is a lot more intuitive than I had supposed it to be, and not only that, the fluid impermanence allows me to type so much quicker.

What I find so amusing about this is how I had my reasons initially, and then I just repeated them without thinking, without questioning, and stayed in my bubble until I found myself being proudly ignorant. Ah well, progress.

Swiss Army Man (2016)

Written for RAF News September 2016

Stranded on a beach Hank (Paul Dano) has had enough and is ready to end it all when a corpse (Daniel Radcliffe) washes up on shore giving him new hope – as well as a way to chop wood and start fires. It’s kind of like Cast Away but with Harry Potter playing Wilson.

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All we know about Hank is that he is an outsider, a bit of a weirdo but sweet at heart. All we know about Manny is that he is dead, at least we’re sure he’s dead until he starts talking – prompting Hank to teach him all there is to life, mostly: love, farts and masturbation. In return Manny offers his body as a tool, appearing to have fantastical powers. If you hadn’t guessed from the title Swiss Army Man is ridiculous. It is pure comic absurdity channeled into the template of an indie film.

Hank’s life lessons are usually accompanied by elaborate props and scenes fabricated from twigs and refuse, giving the film an impossibly complicated homemade aesthetic that is so common of independent films – think: Be Kind Rewind, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist or more recently Me, Earl and the Dying Girl and Adult Life Skills. It feels like an elaborate parody at times, with classic moments like hands rolling out of windows and underwater kisses – just with one of the character’s dead and propped up with sticks or his own flatulence. It’s this level of humour that prevents it from getting too serious, or at least when it seems to get serious it is undermined completely by its silliness.

Not so much concerned with whether he is a hallucination or not, Swiss Army Man ventures into the bizarre by trying to tell a serious story through the profanely juvenile. It embraces its absurdity and wears it with pride. The score is put together brilliantly, a cappella chorus that is sparked by Dano and Radcliffe imitating stirring and triumphant film music. Dano’s recent turn as Brian Wilson comes to mind, not only in his vocal harmonies but in his disturbed state of mind.

The repetition of certain jokes does get tired but much like Manny’s corpse they seem to have a second life after a time. Swiss Army Man is a bold film that sticks to its style and delivers something altogether different and a bit weird.

Pockets

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So nimble fingered is the child now that he can stow things away in his pockets. Up until this point, the pockets on his trousers were akin to the belly button on Adam – purely aesthetic, to make him blend in with the rest of us, to pretend he’s just like the rest of us. And now he is: collecting things he doesn’t need.

Two Women (2016)

Written for RAF News September 2016

Set in mid-19th century Russia, Two Women is focussed on the social fallout when a young tutor moves into a countryside estate only to steal the affection of both the wife and adopted daughter in residence.

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The harsh and hardened lady of the manor, Natalia Petrovna (Anna Astrkhantseva), has grown complacent, her eye drifting from her wealthy husband to her hopelessly-besotted friend Mikhail (Ralph Fiennes) and now to new arrival (Nikita Volkov) even though he himself seems distracted by young free spirited Vera (Anna Levanova).

Adapted from Ivan Turgenev’s A Month in the CountryTwo Women is presented rather as two days. The first painted white and gold, every scene sun-kissed and glowing as the children play together and the adults fawn over each other. Then, in another move of unsubtle symbolism, the second day is met with torrential downpour, taking with it those promising emotions and complicating the relationships within the house.

Over the course of the film different pairings of characters walk around the luscious surroundings of this country home confessing their feelings for each other. Despite the large open spaces that they so often meander through, most are caged by repressed desires and how they ought to behave.

Two Women is a slow-burn that deals in subtlety, but in the hands of these performers small moments become something much larger. Fiennes is masterful at this, stealing focus when simply reacting. Although given that he had learnt the lines in Russian to be overdubbed this is all we are left with. Astrkhantseva gives a solid performance as Natalya, the perfect counterpoint to Vera, the other woman titled in the film though treated as a child. She is naive and vulnerable, spending most of the time running from something or other – which is pointed out as being rather improper.

Apart from a couple of quips made by the visiting doctor, each scene is treated as a rather sober affair, drifting apparently from the comedy in the original text. As if constrained by the same formality of its characters, Two Women moves slowly but deliberately. It relies on the performances to keep your attention, and this it manages to do but it sure does take itself seriously.