Loving Vincent

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Loving Vincent

Directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman

UK & Poland, 2017

HOME, 19 October 2017
Loving Vincent

‘Your loving Vincent’ was how the artist signed off his letters.

This beautifully crafted film, the animations drawn in a pastiche of the style of van Gogh himself, is a detective story, an investigation into how he died. Was Vincent shot by someone, or did he shoot himself? During the process of the investigation, we learn a lot about the artist’s life.

At times, the story-line began to flag but the animations, showing the landscape of Arles (and much else) in van Gogh’s characteristically visible brush strokes, were always worth watching.

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The Party

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The Party

Directed by Sally Potter

UK, 2017

HOME, 18 October 2017
The Party

It is a relatively short film, clocking in at around 71minutes, but what there you get is pure cinematic gold.

We have a party to celebrate Janet’s promotion. So, an occasion for joy and praise. Some close friends are invited around, each couple in a car-crash relationship, leading in due course to a pile-up. Truths are spoken (never a good idea), once firm marital bonds begin to fragment, skeletons walk out of closets. It gets nasty. As always, when the middle-classes get it into their heads to speak their minds anarchy ensues.

A brilliant farce in the Mike Leigh mould.

The Snowman

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The Snowman

Directed by Tomas Alfredson

UK, 2017

HOME, 18 October 2017
The Snowman

This Nordic noir does a decent enough job of bringing home the bacon.

Michael Fassbender is a little lackluster as Harry, a detective who has problems with daemons and drink; mind, maybe that is what the role requires. He needs a case – a dark, ugly case – to focus his energies. And he stumbles into one involving a serial killer who does away with women who reject him, because he believes he was rejected by his mother.

All the ingredients are here: thrills, intrigue, horror, atmospherics (ice and snow creating a malign luminescence), but in parts it somehow lacks urgency.

One problem with films like this, a reason why they can never be wholly satisfactory, is that the killer must remain unknown right up until the end, else there is no mystery. Yet who is the killer? If someone wholly unknown or a minor character even, you feel cheated. If someone known, say connected to the detective, then the story-line inevitably seems contrived.

Blade Runner: The Final Cut

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Blade Runner: The Final Cut

Directed by Ridley Scott

USA, 1982

HOME, 10 October 2017

Blade Runner: The Final Cut

Although Deckard (Harrison Ford) is the grizzled, bruised, noir hero – he spends the whole of the film getting pushed around and beaten up – it is primarily Roy’s (Rutger Hauer’s) story.

He is the monster, a prodigal son or so we hear, who kills his creator. This happens after he delivers a classic checkmate (clearly, someone on the film had read Ernest Jones’ paper on Paul Morphy), a replay of the Immortal Game (Anderssen-Kieseritzky, London 1851), a neat touch with an endearing anachronism: the moves are given in English descriptive not algebraic notation (as is now the norm). In due course Roy becomes a kind of Christ figure, stigmata in one hand and white dove in the other, an excess of empathy compelling him to come to Deckard’s aid. Interestingly, one of the driving motives behind the current transhumanist agenda is the prospect of moral enhancement.

The ending is abrupt yet deftly done: Deckard picking up the origami figure of a unicorn, a fabulist beast not unlike Roy or Rachel, one that haunts his (but are they his?) dreams. A classic film: as exciting, entrancing and enigmatic as ever.

 

 

The Reagan Show

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The Reagan Show

Directed by Sierra Pettengill and Pacho Velez

USA, 2017

HOME, 12 October 2017

The Reagan Show

This is a superficial survey of the Reagan administration.

What we learn is that while Reagan’s ‘Star Wars’ initiative was resisted by many in America and by most world leaders, it brought the Soviets scurrying to the negotiating table and led to the crumbling of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Reagan was pilloried and mocked throughout his presidency, yet when he left the world was a safer place.

There is some interesting documentary footage here but what the film lacks is any sort of serious analysis of policy. And the point is made that later candidates for the presidency had to succeed on television, which is not entirely correct. Television as a medium had been important in American elections since at least the time of JFK (didn’t Nixon lose that election because of his awful TV performance?). And, anyway, any PR lessons that one might learn from the way Reagan operated are surely now out-dated: social media has changed the rules again.

Blood Simple: Director’s Cut

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Blood Simple: Director’s Cut

Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

USA, 1984

HOME, 12 October 2017

Blood Simple: Director’s Cut

The Coen’s classic crime drama is always watchable.

There is the detailed portrait of small town America, the myriad memorable set-pieces: such as the seedy PI with the knife through his hand, nailing it to the window-sill. A neo-noir ambience yet visceral and innovative scenes that you have never ever seen before.

What I picked up on this time was the way everyone is puzzled and confused, attributing false motives to those around them. It is a philosophical puzzlement almost, an uncertainty about the world in which they find themselves, and it probably owes as much to Wittgenstein as Hammett. As we now know, Ethan Coen studied the Austrian in some depth when at Princeton.

 

A very fine film indeed.

The Glass Castle

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The Glass Castle

Directed by Destin Cretton

USA, 2017

HOME, 12 October 2017

The Glass Castle

This is a gritty, searing, wounding memoir centring on the relationship between a daughter and her father.

The father is not an entirely likeable person: he is an alcoholic, possessive of his family, often angry, altogether difficult. Yet he is admirable in many ways.

His daughter’s feelings change as she grows up around him, from worship to disenchantment, from confusion to compassion, settling eventually on an ambivalent love and an acceptance that this man, for all his faults, has formed her, made her the woman she now is. It is a film that could very easily have turned soppy, and that it is so honest and moving is due to the director and cast and the source memoir, a book in the Nick Flynn class.

Daphne

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Daphne

Directed by Peter Mackie Burns

UK, 2017

HOME, 4 October 2017

Daphne

In ambition, this film feels like one of those ‘state of the nation’ affairs.

Daphne (Emily Beecham) is a single woman living in London, world city (ain’t it a wondrous toy?). She keeps her head down: loads to do at work, some socialising and casual sex, reading Zizek (and, I’m guessing, Ranciere and Agamben) in the evenings. Then she sees a shopkeeper knifed before her eyes and it alters her life; though in truth, not that much. Perhaps she has more casual sex, hits the booze oftener, gradually becomes better disposed towards her mother’s insane flirtation with Buddhism (incidentally, Zizec wrote of what he somewhere called ‘the violent dark side of Buddhism‘ well before the expulsion of the Rohingya from Myanmar – so bully to him). Elsewhere, though, she comes across as a stroppy teenager still.

One of the problems with the film is that Beecham is so beautiful – at one point the guy delivering her take-away says (in some concern), ‘You look like shit.’ (We know that she has recently been on a bit of a bender.) Well, she doesn’t actually – she looks better than any woman you will pass in the street on your way home.

And then there is that guy who wants more from her than sex – he wants something meaningful, like say love – and gets neither. Morale: always accept the sex.

Daphne is a decent enough film but meandering and, ultimately, low-impact.

In the Last Days of the City

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In the Last Days of the City

Directed by Tamer El Said

Egypt, 2017

HOME, 5 October 2017
In the Last Days of the City

There is an elegiac quality to this film, set in Cairo just prior to the blossoming – if such it was – of the Arab Spring.

Khalid is completing a film about his father and finding it an interminably difficult process. His flat is due to be demolished and he must move, find someplace new sharpish. He is breaking up with a longtime girlfriend, who is off to Europe and pastures new. And on the streets there are violent political protests, brutal repression from the police and armed forces, brazen lawlessness, a resurgent Islam lurking in the shadows.

There are cities like Cairo, Beirut, Baghdad all across the Middle East. Add Damascus to their number. Once they were conquered and colonised, then they became theatres of the cold war, experiments in the neocon game of regime change. Now they are ruled by military dictatorships or are the capitals of inchoate, fragile democracies. What does the future hold, with Putin’s Russia and a revitalised Iran in cahoots? This excellent film allows you to momentarily feel their tragic fate.

Zoology

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Zoology

Directed by Ivan I. Tverdovskiy

Russia, 2016

HOME, 5 October 2017

Zoology

This is all about Natalia, a woman who grows a tail.

You think about Kafka’s protagonist in Metamorphosis but there are literary precedents to be found in Russia too: think of Gogol (that story about the nose), Kharms, Bulgakov, the fellow who wrote The Petty Demon (Sologub). Anyway, the tail causes some consternation – is she now possessed, aligned with the devil? – but gives an hitherto dull woman a new lease of life. It gets her away from her mother who constantly complains that Europe has forgotten about Christianity is now perverse (see: Douglas Murray does have readers).

In due course Natalia meets a younger man who seems to truly love her, though that supposition is wrecked during a rather strange sex scene when he becomes entranced by her tail’s erectile properties… In short, as Dostoyevsky might put it, Petya X from the town ov V_ he does not love her solely for herself.

A weird, no a very weird and wonderful film. Those Russians…