The Films I've Watched This Year #24

Film Surprisingly given that I spent most of last weekend watching Glastonbury, the Arena about the New York Review of Books, annotating the New York Review of Books and the Biennial, this is a surprisingly busy list.  Of course there's a grey area as to whether at least two of the items on the list count as films, but both the Inside Llewyn Davis concert and Behind The Candelabra received theatrical releases somewhere so I'm keeping them below rather than up here.  It's quite some time since I paid this much attention to Glastonbury.  I'm still working through the individual shows on the iPlayer, with Haim and Anna Calvi definite favourites so far.  I had thought to watch everything, and began in that vein, but some of the material isn't to me taste at all and I've decided that it's ok to digitally drift away if I'm not enjoying a show.  I do wonder about the psychology of that at the actual festival.  How easy is it to walk away from one show and join another?

A Touch of Zen
Another Day, Another Time - Celebrating The Music Of Inside Llewyn Davis
Side Effects
Ender's Game
Don Jon
Behind The Candelabra

Let's begin with the Don Jon, because I want to create a spoiler buffer for Ender's Game which I want to talk about in detail in the next paragraph or two.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt's debut is a remarkable film and indicates that he's a real talent who understands what film's capable of in a way that his peers simply don't.  He appreciates that with ninety minutes to play with its possible to be simplistic and complex as he tells the story of a sexual troglodyte repenting and for all the content, which at one point almost caused a NC-17 from the MPAA until Levitt agreed to par it down, it's the classics he looks to, When Harry Met Sally, Annie Hall and Groundhog Day (and I think The Fast Show!) in appreciating the comic but also the emotional potential of repetition, of presenting the routine of a character's life and reflecting on what happens when external forces disrupt that routine.

Spoiler mode activated.  Isn't Ender's Game annoying?  It's pretty generic entertainment for much of its duration, unashamedly working through the Propp/Campbell Benjamin Sniddlegrass, Harry Potter in space tropes in a way which suggests the novel was an ur-text in much the same way as John Carter (of Mars) was and then makes the bizarre decision presumably from the original material where it hopefully worked better, of robbing the audience of its climactic catharsis.  In storytelling terms, making one triumph, beating a simulation, into something more sinister is a thrilling choice, flying the face of expectation but it also cheats the viewer emotionally even if the message, with its Klaatu barada nikto, surprises intellectually.  Perhaps if this had begat the sequel suggested by the climax it would have worked as the end of an episode or chapter.  As it stands it renders the previous couple of hours of character arc rather pointless.

If Side Effects is to Soderbergh's final official theatrical release, it's quite a way to go out and also rather fitting because it's business as usual.  As ever, he's commenting on a particular genre, on this occasion the kind of Hitchcockian thriller most recently directed by Adrian Lyne (he watched Fatal Attraction a lot during production apparently) or starring Michael Douglas or both but also absorbing its every trope.  Watching the first season of Damages recently, I have noticed that this is just the sort of mid-tier material which has shifted to television, a genre forgotten by studios producing either ultra-expensive blockbusters or cheap comedies, yet here it is being reinvented by Steven.  It's also a useful reminder of just how good Jude Law can be at the sort of thing he does, which tends to be appearing he sort of mid-tier material forgotten by studios producing either ultra-expensive blockbusters or cheap comedies.

If Behind The Candelabra is to be Soderbergh's final film altogether then it's also quite fitting because up until its final moments it also feels like business as usual in that he's producing his version of the true life tv movie of the kind which is usually show on Five* or Sky Living over here, items like Growing Up Brady or The Karen Carpenter Story, and queer cinema.  Since it's for HBO he's able to work in the material which would ordinarily be glossed over even when it's supposed to be the "insider's story" but not in a sensationalist way.  Both Michael Douglas and Matt Damon turn in the performances of their careers, but that's potentially true of all the cast, especially Rob Lowe who's plastic surgeon is somehow both obviously Rob Lowe and entirely unrecognisable.  I'm too close to it now to really make a judgement, but I wonder if it fits with his other low budget works or his studio material.  I really don't know.

When I completed the Hitchwatch, I said that I wanted his final film to be summation.  What I'd failed to realise was that Psycho had actually been is final film and that everything after that was about him simply fulfilling a public obligation which is why so many of them are artistically suspect.  He'd unconsciously or otherwise, I think, reached the end of his experiment, presented his findings and was then effectively in the Q&A section of his symposium.  For all his creative resurgence, Woody's arguably in the same place post-New York, post-Melinda, though to stretch the analogy, it's almost as though he's resubmitting his paper for further consultation, especially in his returns to New York, or commenting on the work of other practitioners in his European films in a way which he simply didn't before, especially his London films, for all their variable comedy.

I simply don't get that with Soderbergh.  Soderbergh feels like a scientist who's had his budget taken away because the funding authority wasn't happy with the research he was carrying out and his interim results, but rather than chipping away in the hopes of gaining sponsorship from elsewhere so he can continue has simply walked away.  But to run away from that analogy, kicking and indeed screaming I also think in Candelabra he allows himself a Shakespearean moment, with Liberace as his Prospero.  As Lee ascends to heaven in those closing moments, full of Man of La Mancha describing what Scott means to him, it's almost like Soderbergh's talking to his viewers, with Matt Damon, one of the key actors from across his career as our avatar on screen.  Which is probably bullshit, but brought a tear to my eye and some closure as I completed my watch through all of his movies.  The tv series will be his Pericles obviously.

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