Wildlife

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Wildlife

Directed by Paul Dano

USA, 2018

HOME, 14 November 2018

Wildlife

It is late fifties America, we are in a small town in Montana, and a teenage boy watches his parents’ marriage fall apart.

When the father leaves home to fight wildfires – he cannot find a decent job otherwise – the mother is drawn toward another man, beginning an extramarital affair.

What is invigorating about the film is the way Joe (Ed Oxenbould) is able to be loyal to both his parents, to cope with their explosions of rage, to navigate what becomes a very uncertain world. There is a rooted rhythm to his life, a path through, despite all the emotional disruption. And his love for his parents never really falters. They give up on each other, eventually, but he doesn’t give up on them. He is a kind of heroic figure.

Joe notices things, compassionately and a little coldly too. His parents frailties for one thing, the filibuster pretensions – what a grand, pathetic facade they make – of his mother’s lover for another. He closely observes all the small-town life that goes on around him.

Probably, since Richard Ford wrote the source novel, there is an allusion in one incident to Faulkner’s classic story ‘Barn Burning’ – and that’s all to the good. Wildlife can sit in the same company. It is a classy, emotionally potent film about fathers and sons, mothers and family.

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Widows

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Widows

Directed by Steve McQueen

USA, 2018

HOME, 14 November 2018

Widows

Warrior women wade through a swamp of petty, inadequate men – and come out with the dosh.

With this film, Steve McQueen has constructed a stylish crime drama chockfull of political intrigue and personal betrayal, graced with a cool, lead performance by Viola Davis as Veronica. When her husband, a bank robber, dies along with his crew, she finds herself owing a couple of million dollars to a dangerous man. So Veronica decides to pull off her dead husband’s next planned heist, and to do so she enlists the help of the crew’s other widows.

McQueen directs with an unswerving eye that is at once cool and compassionate, turning what might have been a bog-standard crime caper into cinematic silver. He shows us acts of vacant violence, the evil banal and oh so casual, along with grief-wrenched shoulders burdened with unbearable emotion. No fair sharing of life’s sorrow here; the sociopaths get away scot free. In one scene a young black man is killed by police because they suspect he is going for a gun – a clear allusion to the recent killings that sparked Black Lives Matter. It is a dangerous world out there.

Widows works as a thriller, as a study of sexual poiitics and it is, moreover, a compelling portrait of contemporary America. What more could you want from a movie?

RNCM Big Band with Eric Marienthal

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RNCM Big Band with Eric Marienthal

RNCM Theatre, 3 November 2018

Eric Marienthal

It was perhaps the best RNCM Big Band concert ever.

There was the precious pleasure of seeing someone – Eric Marienthal, saxophonist – do something supremely well. Nor did the RNCM Big Band disappoint: there was much urgency, a constant forward propulsion always, the pace brisk and always accelerating, to all of the twelve tracks, many of them composed and arranged by Eric’s colleague Gordon Goodwin.

We heard the brazen confidence of a sweetly blaring city, mellow and spacious, swarming with colour and sound. Resplendent solos on piano, guitar, trumpet and (naturally) saxophone softly ruffled the ear; and, on drums, Joshua Savage took part in a kind of dialogue with Eric’s saxophone. It was much more than a pair of solos, with these two; more of a beck and call.

Now the only question is: how will the RNCM Big Band top this?

Possum

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Possum

Directed by Matthew Holness

UK, 2018

HOME, 31 October 2018

Possum

This is a weird, British horror film which will not be everyone’s cup of tea.

Sean Harris is a troubled soul who walks around with a puppet in a leather bag – like Michael Redgrave in Dead of Night. Haunted by the past, it looks like, he spends his days walking by canals and parks, or shuffling along the streets of run-down estates. One time he visits an old army barracks. When he returns home, we learn that he lives in a cluttered house with a creepy uncle (Alun Armstrong) and that there is damp on the walls. It is all very grim and English.

I found it intense and effective sometimes, but in the end just a little monotonous.

Utøya: July 22

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Utøya: July 22

Directed by Erik Poppe

Norway, 2018

HOME, 31 October 2018

Utøya: July 22

This is a fictionalised account of the terrorist attack on Utøya on 22 July 2011 that left over 70 young people dead and many more seriously injured.

The film ably captures the confusion of the attack. Indeed, we look at it wholly from the viewpoint of the victims. In a sense, this attack was a precursor to the far-right extremism and terrorism of our own day (such as the attack at the synagogue in Pittsburgh at the weekend), though in truth such far-right extremists (nutters all) have always been around.

It is a compelling film, all the more so since the register and tone is naturalistic and matter of fact. Thereby, it manages to avoid various pitfalls. It’s not a cheap thriller, though there is an undercurrent of danger; it’s not maudlin and emotional, though there is a sense of young lives and human potential lost; it not overly worthy, since these are ordinary young people, not saints.

All in all, a fine film.

 

 

SHOW @ HOME

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SHOW

Choreography and music by Hofesh Shechter

Hofesh Shechter Company

HOME, 31 October 2018

Photo by Rahi Rezvani

The Night of the Long Knives.

It was like 101 ways to kill your fleet-footed footed lover – or cloven hoofed enemy, come to that. You could use a hand-made gun to the head, the thumb going down and then they collapse. Or how about a zip-like screech across the neck with an open palm, that looked like doing the trick too: they crumple to the ground, throat slit. Then again, you might want to kill more than one enemy at once, so there’s the firing squad, a line of dancers, arms outstretched. And so it went on, each killer becoming the next victim, the march – or, rather, the frenetic dance – of history as an infinite cycle of violence. Often,the fatal denouement was preceded by a courtly or a showmanlike gesture, as though to proclaim: ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, for my next trick…’

If this description seems grim, well, it was anything but. Instead we had a show full of a gleeful, diabolical energy whose aesthetic was akin to that of a conte cruel or a Grand Guignol extravaganza. Its sinister ambience evoked the Dance of the Knights sequence in Romeo and Juliet, but whereas Prokofiev’s score is a kind of tango, Shechter instead went for a queerly rollicking percussion that was haughty, jolly and (in the end) infectious. As for his choreography here, it had violence and danger, yet also elegance and precision, and the dancers brought into this full pelt. It was like watching an elaborate checkmate – say King, Bishop and Knight checkmating a lone King – again and again, with each time a slightly different variation.

There are few of us who are not fascinated by the cool display of unbridled ambition, by wanton betrayal, by the grand spectacle of the execution of our enemies and rivals (if only occurring in our imagination). SHOW is unlikely to purge you of this sinful, all too human fascination, though the purges depicted here will certainly satisfy it. Momentarily, at least.

SHOW is at HOME until 3 November, details here.

Touch Me Not

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Touch Me Not

Directed by Adina Pintilie

Romania, 2018

HOME, 24 October 2018

Touch Me Not

You meet various people with troubled personal lives in this film.

Or maybe everybody has a troubled personal life and these people are simply more open about it.

Anyway, the disabled guy with the sparkly eyes seemed very sane and sorted. He speaks candidly about his body and his sexuality.

As for the other people, well, they seemed a little bit too self-absorbed and, perhaps, credulous. They give too much of a hearing to professionals of every hue (prostitutes and therapists), each peddling a particular brand of bullshit. And they swallow that bullshit whole.

In the end, I had very little sympathy with most of these people, frankly. My response: they should just get their head out of their (or someone else’s) arse and engage with the world. There are genuine problems to worry about out there.

Dogman

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Dogman

Directed by Matteo Garrone

Italy, 2018

HOME, 24 October 2018

Dogman

This naturalistic crime drama reminded me of one of those Italian folktales that Italo Calvino retold: it is banal but also somehow majestic.

It is about Marcello (played by the excellent Marcello Fonte: a runty Al Pacino), a fellow who has a shop where he cares for dogs. His friendship with Simone (Edoardo Pesce), a local bully and a petty criminal, is fraught with cruel difficulties. Simone has a drug problem (which Marcello feeds, so he is not a pure innocent) and is something of a dumb animal, two reasons that explain (in part) Marcello’s attachment to him. Thing is, he turns a blind eye to everyday evil, does Marcello, he lets things slide. And he thinks that Simone’s erratic, increasingly out-of-control behaviour will never disrupt his life.

In the end, of course, it does – and the ragged steps of a squalid tragedy are painful to watch but not entirely unsurprising. One of those indifferent dances to niggardly oblivion, that is Marcello’s life. Pity him.

Safety Last! & One Week

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Safety Last!

Directed by Sam Taylor and Fred Newmeyer

USA, 1923

RNCM Concert Hall, 26 October 2018

Safety Last!

This silent film double bill was both exciting and entertaining.

First up we saw One Week, a quite short (25 minutes or so) Buster Keaton film from 1920. Buster and his wife, a newly married couple, set out on their life together and their first job involves, naturally enough, building their own house. Much accident and mishap and hilarity ensues.

The second film, Safety Last!, was a full length feature (75 minutes) and saw Harold Lloyd’s country boy trying to make it good in the big city. The letters to his girl back home inflate his status, so she comes there to see that his new-found wealth and prosperity (wholly illusory, of course) doesn’t lead him astray. In striving to keep up appearances, the city slicker finds himself climbing the building where he works, which leads to the most famous scene in the film. Hatted and bespectacled, our go-getter hangs precariously from a clock face…

There are a lot of inventive visual gags in Lloyd’s film and you get the sense that this aptitude for gags meant also that he was adept at expressing a story in purely visual terms. The symbolism is not especially deep (climbing a building = vaulting ambition), but it is effective.

Darius Battiwalla’s atmospheric piano playing added to the enjoyment of both films, with the waltz as Buster tries to control his house (it is spinning in a storm) being particularly wonderful.

My Twentieth Century

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My Twentieth Century

Directed by Ildikó Enyedi

Hungary, 1990

HOME, 24 October 2018

My Twentieth Century

A curious film, but worthwhile if you stick with it.

There are these two young women, identical twins separated at birth, who grow up to live very different lives. One is a simpering temptress, a risk-taking fortune hunter, while the other is a zany anarchist and a social agitator, an early feminist. It happens that both women befriend and become intimate with the same man – though the unfeeling brute cannot tell the two apart. He becomes beguiled and exasperated as a consequence.

I found it interesting that one of the women, naturally the bluestocking suffragette, attends a lecture by Otto Weininger, the much admired (by Kraus and Wittgenstein, for example) author of Sex and Character. He was a strange fellow, Weininger, and he ended up killing himself in the house where Beethoven is also known to have died.

Here he appears to be chauvinistic because it is assumed that he is speaking of men and women as they actually are (a misrepresentation of his position), rather than Male and Female as Platonic Ideals. (Or as akin to Freud’s Ego and Id.) Actually, Weininger believed (along with Aristophanes) that people are androgynous, all having a mix of Male and Female within them. Maybe, within our trans, gender-fluid world Weininger’s ideas are due for a comeback?