December 21, 2014


Chloe (Atom Egoyan, 2009). A going through the motions erotic thriller set in a cold world of Toronto modernism where only some of the location scouting – all the glass walls and windows that provide constant views of others – suggests the rich, dark, depressing mood of suspicion and surveillance in the early films that Egoyan has still not improved upon. Or is this depressing in a different way? From Wikipedia: “Despite its mixed critical reception, Chloe made money than any of Atom Egoyan’s previous films.” 

December 19, 2014

Real crime

Frenzy (Alfred Hitchcock, 1972). Middle and late Hitchcock can usually be charted according to movie-star glamour but Frenzy dispenses with that: no stars you ever remember, zero glamour, just the grim and sordid ugliness of real people, real violence, real crime. 

December 18, 2014

Pagan Rome

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (Dario Argento, 1970).

December 16, 2014

Imaginary marriage

Venus in Fur (Roman Polanski, 2013). Its jaded sexual shocks now played as comedy, informed by the director’s home life.

December 15, 2014

Lou has the pictures

Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy, 2014). The best thing about Nightcrawler is an obsessive Jake Gyllenhaal performance as Lou Bloom, a skeletal, bug-eyed sociopath navigating a shadowy Los Angeles by GPS and police scanner, a performance only suggested by Gyllenhaal’s work in Zodiac and (more promisingly) Prisoners. The less serious summary: he’s pasty, a loner, morbidly attracted to gore and almost entirely nocturnal ­ it’s no wonder the film critics all relate. Media studies classes will have a field day too. There is an argument in here about the dangers of competitive media outsourcing its worst work to entirely amoral freelancers, but the media critique is more satirical than finger-wagging, bordering on Network. It also works as a lurid, night-time thriller. 

December 13, 2014

Stuck on Earth

The Mirror (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1975) vs Interstellar.   

December 11, 2014

Jesus in New York

The Book of Life (Hal Hartley, 1998). Hal Hartley’s The Book of Life was a slightly dopey idea – Jesus (then Hartley regular Martin Donovan, doing his mildly aggressive inscrutability) and sidekick Mary Magdalena (PJ Harvey) appear in New York on December 31, 1999, to get the imminent end of the world going – but it had some resonance watched again, 15 years on, or more resonance than a rerun of Kevin Smith’s Dogma or the Schwarzenegger film End of Days would carry now, at least. The lo-tech 90s video looks smeary and awful but otherwise the texture of the 90s is so subtly different – almost no mobile phones, the clunky and slow Apple Mac graphics on Jesus’ laptop, people still smoking – that only the millennial deadline really stresses that this is recent history. Watched now, it is impossible to forget about the actual apocalyptic event that hit New York nearly two years later. Images and ideas seem to prefigure it. An airport is the first location; a few minutes in, a man gazes up at the sky from the street and sees an airliner over Manhattan; later, the movie Jesus is indecisive (men are usually indecisive in Hartley films) about whether to annihilate a large chunk of humanity. He and Satan debate the rights and wrongs of religious violence and fanaticism and ethics, whether humans have souls, whether God is fair. The last shot is of the Twin Towers, receding into the distance. This was the first September 11 film, three years early.

December 10, 2014

The films of 2014

More on all these and others over at Werewolf.
The year’s top 10:

1. Under the Skin

2. Blue is the Warmest Colour

3. Winter Sleep

4. Ida

5. The Grand Budapest Hotel

6. Boyhood

7. Maps to the Stars

8. Her

9. What We Do in the Shadows

10. Interstellar

A second ten:

Dallas Buyers Club, The Dead Lands, Gloria, It Follows, The Lego Movie, Leviathan, Locke, Nymphomaniac, The Selfish Giant, The Trip to Italy

December 7, 2014

December 3, 2014

20 years ago, 30 years ago

The Weight of Elephants (Daniel Borgen, 2013). Made of memory, set in the present. 

November 29, 2014

Mother and son

The Babadook (Jennifer Kent, 2014). Horror films that cross over to the critical mainstream are rare. Here’s one good example. The troubled kid who can see things that you can’t see is a well-worn horror idea but this arty, deliberately international Australian horror gets to a place so deep that it must qualify as taboo: a parent’s homicidal resentment of her child. Great screaming (Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman), persistently creepy mise-en-scene and some psychological truths.

November 24, 2014

November 19, 2014

The Roman Empire never really ended

They Live (John Carpenter, 1988). Newly famous for its inclusion as an important political film in Slavoj Zizek’s recent The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, They Live endures as a cult artefact of the Reagan 1980s, shaped by a veteran of the counter-cultural 60s. The settings are downtown Los Angeles and the millennial revolutionary cult that discovers there are skull-faced alien bodysnatchers living among us, and ruling us through consumerist brainwashing on television and billboards, assembles in a small church in the city – and it is the church that gives the thing an unexpected early Christian/Gnostic flavour, like a sci-fi parable that Philip K Dick might have devised. The Roman Empire never really ended? I was thinking of Richard Linklater’s amazing PK Dick speech near the end of Waking Life. (In this thorough essay, Kenny Paul Smith says that while the political dimensions of They Live have been often talked about, the religious ones have been almost ignored: “The demise of the ghouls and the world they have created is in essence a vision of the eschaton. This trope of a spiritual warfare against evil invokes an apocalyptic tradition in which an embattled Church, persecuted by the forces of Babylon variously identified with everyone from the Roman Empire, to the Soviet Union, to the Federal government will ultimately triumph.”) They Live has a weird prescience: some (including Zizek) see it as proto-Fight Club, others talk about Occupy. Personally, I was surprised that a film made in 1988 would talk about year 2000 anxiety. That it is all so rudimentary – made for just $3 million – with the most basic of screenplays and a leading man (Roddy Piper, above) who is no Kurt Russell only helps with its intention as a message film, an urgent sketch of an obvious and brilliant idea. Like a musclebound Christ, Piper’s John Nada (yes, “Nada”) bursts into a bank with the news that he’s upsetting the established order: “I’ve come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubblegum.” Bringing not peace but a sword and a lame 80s action wisecrack. 

November 17, 2014

High school and after

Blue is the Warmest Colour (Abdellatif Kechiche, 2013). 

November 15, 2014

So resourceful

Marnie (Alfred Hitchcock, 1964). Gone Girl (David Fincher, 2014). 

November 13, 2014

Water, ice, fire, dust

Interstellar (Christopher Nolan, 2014). Time, as Tarkovsky said, is the material of cinema. And sometimes it is also its subject, as Christopher Nolan showed us in Memento, The Prestige, Inception and now in his ambitious, optimistic, anti-nostalgic and deeply (uncharacteristically?) sentimental space epic, Interstellar. Fathers and daughters, worm holes and extra dimensions, and moments that would impress both Shyamalan and, yes, Tarkovsky.  

November 11, 2014


The Dead Lands (Toa Fraser, 2014). What a ridiculously good idea. Like a lot of people, I came out of Mel Gibson’s Mayan action film Apocalypto thinking that someone needed to make a movie like that, set in pre-European New Zealand, with all dialogue in Te Reo. And now someone has. It seems to me that the success of The Dead Lands is in the melding of a generic horror-action-martial arts idea devised by commercially-minded producer Matthew Metcalfe and writer Glenn Standring (previously, demons and steampunk vampires) with the more mainstream values of director Toa Fraser, cinematographer Leon Narbey and musician Don McGlashan, whom you would never have picked as the composer of the threatening electronic score. In other words, the right talent came together in the right way. The Dead Lands is a straight-forward, unrelentingly violent and constantly uncompromising action film that throws audiences into an unfamiliar world run according to codes of honour, family and spirituality (with occasional cannibalism). The secret weapon is the impressive Lawrence Makaore as the film’s soulful monster – so much more than the terrifying dark object used to frighten Tolkien and Jackson’s Anglo-Saxon and Nordic heroes in the Lord of the Rings films

November 10, 2014

Long nights, early mornings

The Great Beauty (Paolo Sorrentino, 2013). When you realise too late that you wasted 40 or more years. It seemed that Marcello Mastroianni in La Dolce Vita – the obvious model, along with La Notte and Fellini’s Roma – at least had time on his side. The same world, glittering, contemporary and hollowed-out. Once an unidentified sea monster on a beach suggesting something unfathomable, now a wrecked ocean liner. Once a holy statue soaring over Rome, now an ancient saint-to-be crawling up Roman steps on her knees. 

November 9, 2014

If I could remember the films we saw

We returned by the same route. Often, we went to the cinema, a local picture house which I found again: the Royal-Villiers, Place de Levis. It was the square with its benches, the Morris Column and the trees which recalled the spot to me, much more than the front of the cinema.
If I could remember the films we saw, I would be able to identify the time exactly, but only some vague impressions remain of them: a sledge sliding over the snow; a man in a dinner-jacket entering the cabin of a liner; silhouette dancing behind french windows …
from Missing Person by Patrick Modiano 

November 5, 2014

Island life

The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden (Dan Geller and Danya Goldfine, 2013). The sensational title and the hype oversell this cluttered, clumsily-told but fitfully interesting documentary about three groups of German-speaking exiles who made new homes on remote Floreana island in the 1930s. On paper it sounds appealing bullying Nietzschean superman, polygamous fake Baroness, jungles, wildlife, a birth, at least one murder and several unexplained deaths (if ever there was a subject screaming out for Werner Herzog, it’s this) but extensive interviews with only loosely connected present-day inhabitants gives you the sense that some thin historical anecdotes have been padded out and that the project has been in production too long.