The Films I've Watched This Year #4

Film Now that these week in film reviews are becoming the regular occurrence I didn't want them to be, I'm starting to think about what I'm going to write which is why these film reviews are becoming the regular occurrence I didn't want them to be.  But the upshot of that is I'm becoming more of an active participant again, not simply grazing through things which is somewhat where I was drifting towards, now really trying to decide once again if the filmmakers achieved what they set out to do.

Lovestruck: The Musical
Mademoiselle C
Sketches of Frank Gehry
The Girl
Hank: Five Years from the Brink
Man of Steel
Mike Birbiglia: My Girlfriend's Boyfriend
The Wolverine
Red 2

The makers of Lovestruck: The Musical certainly did what they set out to do. It's a jukebox television musical in which a peroxide blonded Jane Seymour drinks a magic potion which makes her thirty years younger with the face of Chelsea Kane so she can sabotage her estranged daughter's wedding by seducing the fiance because said offspring is supposed to be the star of the broadway show she's producing.  It's rubbish, of course, but it does have the spectacle of Seymour singing and dancing to a cover of Lady Gaga's Let's Dance and luckily it's just during the opening credits so I've essentially seen the rest so you don't have to.  As to what possessed me to watch in the first place, you can blame the genre games posts for which I'm researching the next entry.  Oh and that it's on Netflix and I'm trying to get my money's worth.

But for all of that, it's not as rubbish as Man of Steel.  Stop raising your eyebrows.  At least Lovestruck: The Musical is honest about what it is and fulfill the viewer's low expectations.  Man of Steel manages to take one of the most iconic and celebrated characters of the past century and put him at the centre of a poorly structured, badly written, routinely directed, ill-conceived dirge that's depressing to watch largely because having made some money at the box office it's become the basis for what Warner Bros will be doing with DC's characters in the cinema for the next decade.  It is to Superman what the Leakley Bible would have been to Doctor Who had that been pressed into service as the basis for the US TV Movie with Paul McGann.

Oddly, it's a very well cast film.  Henry Cavill looks suitably heroic, Amy Adams can do the screwball comedy that's central to Lois, Larry Fishburne's a fine Perry White.  But none of them really get to do the things they're very good at because Snyder's decided that to underscore that this is a mythic character he must be backed by a ton of mythology most of which is the kind of doggerel Lucas would turn his nose up at and overburdens a character far too early in his story.  Superman can be an angsty character to be sure, the burden of power, last of his species, at its core this story is The Front Page or His Girl Friday with male journalist gifted with super powers and his partner a sharp tongue, something no previous incarnation of these characters, especially in the cartoons across the years has forgotten.

[spoiler zone]

Imagine if instead of a twenty-minute action sequence that looks like the work of someone with Thor-envy, we had instead greeted Lois and Clark in the Daily Planet doing their thing before the latter has to go off and do something super before a flashback structure kicked in layering the origins and explaining who Zod is.  Yes, it's somewhat Superman II, but at least  the core elements would be in place and the audience would have something to latch onto.  There's actually nothing wrong with taking narrative chances like making Lois aware of the secret identity or killing Jonathan Kent, such things are in the air and should be.  But you shouldn't forget, just as the makers of The Wolverine or Red 2 don't, which genre you're in and there's nothing wrong in having a few action sequences which focus on heroes being heroes and fun.

[/spoiler zone]

Three personality led documentaries this week.  Mademoiselle C follows Carine Roitfeld, the former editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris as she launches a new fashion quarterly in a fluff piece which makes The September Issue look like The World At War but does at least have the spectacle of Karl Lagerfeld pushing a baby stroller around an office.  Sketches of Frank Gehry is the late Sydney Pollack's fascinating investigation into the architect's working methods which funnily enough has a similar structure to the fashion film but has the bonus of featuring people with something interesting to say about their subject.  Gehry was a fairly middle of the road architect until his decided to take a risk in his mid-sixties and revolutionised the business.  There's a lesson for all of us in that.

Director Joe Berlinger's Hank: Five Years from the Brink is also a lesson.  Having enjoyed Charles Ferguson's The Inside Job I was weary about what looked for all the world like a reposte to that earlier film (which effectively doorstepped the bankers who perpetrated the financial collapse of 2008), the cinematic equivalent of the subject of a newspaper column writing an open letter in rebuttle.  There is an element of that, especially in the latter stages, but away from the footage of Senate hearings (which also appears here) we're presented with a very complex figure who's portrayed as being caught in a whirlwind during which he was forced to make decisions he really didn't want to in the face of (surprise, surprise) the Republicans in US government who didn't understand why he needed to take those decisions.

Hank's an interesting example of interview film.  It is a documentary but the only two newly shot interviews which appear are with Poulson and his wife, the rest of the story explained through archive news footage and intertitles.  Yet it remains solidly cinematic thanks to the editing techniques and rich musical score that grips like a thriller.  Hank isn't afraid to enunciate his personal failings, about how a personal misunderstanding led to him accepting the job of Secretary of the Treasury and how he sometimes overestimated the intelligence of some of the people he had to deal with.  He's clearly exasperated that the systems which led to the financial collapse are still in place and his attitude is that it's not about whether it's going to happen again but then.  So actually it's a horror film too.

As per the opening paragraph, I had expected to say Calendar was my favourite film of the week.  Mislabeled as being released in 2013, this 1993 art film by Atom Egoyan, like the Poulson documentary utilises just a limited numbers of types of shots to tell its story about the dissolution of a marriage.  Egoyan himself plays an egotistical photographer who's tasked with visiting Armenia and photographing churches for the eponymous calendar.  But the only parts of the country we see, apart from brief VHS recordings, are through the viewfinder of his camera as his wife, who's also acting as translator falls in and out of love with their driver and guide.  These are intercut with shots of the photographer at a table in his apartment on a series of dates with European women.

What makes the film spectacular is that with just this limited amount of shots, Egoyan's able to weave a story which is lucid and compelling.  There are mysterious elements throughout, the significance of which he slowly reveals and there's a genuine sense of being in control of form and of trusting the patience of the audience and treating us with some intelligence.  Come to think of it, Calendar is probably also an art house example of a romantic tragedy, what with its unhappy ending and its flashback structure which twists back in on itself.  It's certainly leavened a bit with comedic moments usually of the "lost in translation" kind which are often very funny as the photographer finds his inability to understand Armenian is becoming the problem and cause of his ensuring irrelevancy.

No, my favourite film of the week was Uncertainty which is just extraordinary and which you probably haven't heard of.  I certainly hadn't when I saw it in a charity shop last week, buying it on the strength of Joseph Gordon-Levitt being on the box, the quote from The New Yorker.  Well, and indeed then.  Uncertainty is a genre experiment in which the same couple, Gordon-Levitt's girlfriend played by Lynn Collins, find themselves on opposite sides of New York in parallel storylines, a family drama and a paranoia thriller running concurrently in seemingly different realities and we see how they react to each.  In other words, it's Melinda and Melinda, Run Lola Run or Sliding Doors with even wider genre extremes and sense of experimentation which makes it sounds like an intellectual exercise like Calendar and to some extent it is, but Gordon-Levitt and Collins's chemistry also keep it grounded.

It is also a film which works best without much in the way of prior knowledge so I don't want to go into too much detail.  But if you'd told me Scott McGehee and David Siegel, the directors of Bee Season (the Richard Gere explains Buddism scene still haunts me) were capable of producing this I wouldn't have believed you.  It sounds derivative, but McGehee and Siegal pointedly and directly reference all of the above mentioned films (there's a moment about catching trains for example) as well as Kieslowski in identifying each of the storylines with colours that are forever visible within the mise-en-scène.  This is complex, exciting, rich film making of the kind which seems designed to be the stuff of film criticism papers but thanks to weak distribution found itself ignored.

In other words, I'm probably predisposed to love it.  For hours afterwards I found myself saying things like "Ooh, ooh, ooh.." as I noticed some of the clever, clever directorial and writing choices.  As well as the self-awareness, as the stories intercut with one another pieces of exposition about the characters are revealed in one story become vitally important in the other.  Gordon-Levitt's character has all the narrative agency in the action section of the film, Collins in the family drama and although that looks initially like genre stereotyping, the way it's done could also be seen as genre commentary.  There's also the climax of the film which truly lives up to the title.  There are amazingly cheap copies available at Amazon and its rentable at Lovefilm.  Yes, indeed, recommended.

Dawn of the Rise of the Battle of the Conquest of the Escape Beneath ...

Nature You've probably seen this already, but it's hilarious, so here it is again. It's staff at Ueno zoo in Tokyo practising their drills for capturing escaped animals:

Presumably I'm the only one who was reminded of Mark Wallinger's performance and video piece, Sleeper (2004-2005) which appeared at the Turner Prize exhibition at Tate Liverpool way back when:

Hidden from view in Tokyo, the ghost of Joseph "everyone's an artist" Bueys is making a slow hand-clap.

"they pay no attention to poetry"

Film The YouTube channel Cinema Sins might catalogue the odd mistake in blockbusters, but Moveguide, profiled by The New Yorker is a faith-based review website which catalogues actual sins as the Bible would have it. Unfortunately, like the Bible, it's a bit consistent in its approach, as noted by Jeffrey Overstreet, film critic for Christianity Today:
"While Movieguide ignores movies that don’t originate in Hollywood, Overstreet began to understand the depth of the relationship between filmmaking and religious themes as he uncovered works by Robert Bresson, Carl Theodor Dreyer, and Wim Wenders. “Movieguide has no tools whatsoever to read those movies, because they pay no attention to poetry,” he said. In Baehr’s ruthless inventorying of every filmic occurrence of sin, Movieguide often renounces movies that might contain meaning for a faith-based audience. Overstreet points to “No Country for Old Men” and “Pan’s Labyrinth” as two films that illustrate Christian theology but were condemned out of hand by a Christian press preoccupied by violence and cursing. “Of course, they give glowing reviews to the ‘Narnia’ films and to the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy solely because they’re the works of Christian authors. But ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ is proof positive of everything Tolkien and Lewis and L’Engel wrote about faith in art.”"
All of which said, they bloody love Gravity.

"She's got the kind of look that defies..."

Film With Gravity soon to be released on shiny disc and hopefully receive the best picture award at the Oscars, The Guardian has an interview with Alfonso and Sandy. Eyebrows have been raised and I've seen some bemused commentary on the number of nominations and awards Bullock's received generally from people who're a bit uninformed about the production process. Perhaps they should read this piece about what an average day for the actress was like on the set:
"Bullock's working day on the shoot sounds more like a complex medical procedure than an acting gig. She describes it as a "morose headspace". She was strung or strapped inside the lightbox for up to 10 hours a day. She was usually in complete silence, save for instructions coming through an earpiece, and observed only by a camera on the end of a robotic arm. It was as if she was acting in total privacy, she says: "The only people I'd see was if someone came in to adjust the rig or fix something. Everything else was behind this black curtain on this vast black sound stage. Often I would just stay in whatever apparatus I was in because it was too long to get in and out of it. You learn to zone out. I don't know if meditation is the right word but it was that principle. I would either play music or just close my eyes and stay where I was – until the end of the day where you'd put your own head back on and go outside and have the benefit of sunshine."

At least it was an asset in the "adversity" department. "My situation was somewhat like the situation the character was in," she says, laughing. "There's no one around, you're frustrated, nothing works, you're in pain, you're lonely, you want someone to fix everything for you but they can't – all those things I was feeling."

Tokyo Sky.

Fashion When she was a teenager, Jennifer Sky, the model and actress whom most of us will remember for Cleopatra 2525 or Marc Evan's My Little Eye spent a summer in Tokyo attempting to bolster her career. It was, judging by her account at Buzzfeed, awful. Now she's written an autobiographical eBook recalling the period as a cautionary tale about the industry:
"When Jennifer Sky was 15, she was offered the chance to spend a summer working as a model in Japan. For a girl from rural Florida who spent hours poring over fashion magazines, it seemed like a dream come true. But soon she found herself all but abandoned in an unfamiliar city, attempting to navigate a ruthless industry on her own and waving goodbye to childhood on the boozy margins of Tokyo’s expatriate scene. In Queen of the Tokyo Ballroom, Sky recounts the summer that changed the course of her life—and left her still sorting out the consequences two decades later."
There is an excerpt on the Buzzfeed interview but the whole thing is available on UK Amazon for a very reasonable £1.86.

CGI Pat.

TV "Get ready for one of the world's most beloved characters as you've never seen him before..." Yes, in some cheap looking (though probably quite expensive) dayglo CGI rather than the always beautiful stop animation. I'd be interested to know if the latter was ever even considered. This looks rubbish and mores to the point is another example of the creative cliff which children's films have fallen over, all of that voice talent, some of which sounds like its doing some good work, in service of yet another film about a talent programme (cf, one of the Shreks) and with what actually sounds like the Karaoke Sauron himself, basically advertising for his portfolio.  One of the lectures I attended at university talked about how properties such as this go through a process of "normalisation" which tends to remove any sense of individuality.  Well, here's that process in all its glory.

Delpy's Road.

Film Julie Delpy's next directed film is a period drama which sounds really exciting:
"The film is based on a story by Delpy and Stephen Hamel. Hamel is producing through his Company Films banner along with “Her” producer Vincent Landay.

"The film is set the early days of silent films and the automobile industry and follows a family of Vaudeville performers embarking on a cross-country road trip from New York to Los Angeles while making a motion picture."
The exciting part is that lately we haven't had a decent period road movie as such because of the sheer cost of setting and resetting that many locations which is odd when you consider how much of a road movie, depending on the route taken, is in an open wilderness where the only elements you necessarily need are costumes and a vehicle.

Model eats designer bag on New York City subway.

Science Fiction: New Death.

Art Well, then.
"A major contemporary science fiction exhibition will be at FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology) in Liverpool between 27 March – 22 June 2014."

"Artists including James Bridle, Jon Rafman, Ryan Trecartin, Mark Leckey, Karen Mirza & Brad Butler and Larissa Sansour will present works which explore how technology is creating new ways of living (and dying), of fashioning identities and the growth of cult-like communities; making our everyday lives feel increasingly like science fiction."

"China Miéville award-winning British science fiction author (Perdido Street Station, The City & the City) has produced a new series of short texts which will be visualised in the galleries. These texts have inspired the narrative of the exhibition which is presented as a deconstructed movie set, with the curator as director, artists as actors, Miéville as scriptwriter and acclaimed artist collective The Kazimier as set designers."

Three Seashells.

Film Typeset of the Future collates and identifies the various fonts which appear in science fiction films and begins its trawl with 2001: A Space Odyssey (via kottke). The writer is also handily transcribing chunks of text glimpsed as the people of the future or as is the case with that film, the past, go about their business including bathroom arrangements. Here is what to do if you need to go to the toilet in 2001. In zero gravity:
"This toilet is of the standard zero-gravity type. Depending on requirements, system A and/or system B can be used, details of which are clearly marked in the toilet compartment. When operating system A, depress lever and a plastic dalkron eliminator will be dispensed through the slot immediately underneath. When you have fastened the adhesive lip, attach connection marked by the large “X” outlet hose. Twist the silver coloured ring one inch below the connection point until you feel it lock."
That's just the first step. The "adhesive lip" sounds uncomfortable to say the least.

Incidentally, elsewhere, someone has explained how the three seashells must work in Demolition Man (probably not safe for work - contains graphic line drawings).

"We're going back to that style."

TV Doctor Who director Ben Wheatley's given a hilariously early interview on Capaldi and the next series of Doctor Who. Oh the discussions which will fill the void until the Autumn with this comment:
"Oh yeah, Doctor Who is pretty dark, I think. Generally it's dark, it's always been dark. Even in the more modern ones. If you look at the Tom Baker stuff, it's especially dark. When he leaves Leela — who's a very beloved assistant — he just laughs after it. There's none of the [breaking down and crying]. He just laughs, and "on to the next one," you know. It's a bonkers show. It's a monster. To have a unity that runs eight years [of the new series]… it's pretty crazy. They've done everything, they've tried all sorts of stuff. It seems to me the episodes that we're doing now seem more like classic Who. We're going back to that style. But you'll have to wait and see."
My italics. Whatever could he mean? All plot, plot, plot with character development becoming as subtle as Jo Grant's arc in the Pertwee years where she changed, became more confident but nothing was explicit? No arcs? Longer conversations?  Shot on multi-camera set-ups in the studio with obvious shifts to "film" utilising a different setting on the digital cameras?  Or just in terms of tone?  Was The Night of the Doctor a test of some sort as to a different direction for the show?  Oh the discussions, the discussions.


Books Lucy Greaves, translator, writes in The Guardian about untranslatable words. By the end of the first paragraph I'd already taken a life changing decision:
"Not long ago I was given the task of presenting an untranslatable word at an event at the Free Word Centre, where I am translator in residence. This interest in untranslatable words, which ties into one of the centre's new lines of inquiry, The Power of Translation, began last year with a blog that compiled untranslatable words from different languages ( There were some fantastic words that would arguably make welcome additions to English: who among us hasn't experienced tsundoku, for example, the Japanese word for "the act of leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piling it up together with other such unread books"."
Yes, that's me. A lot. My rooms are piled-high with books filled with potential if I every had the time to actually read them. But of course I'd have the time if I watched less films and wasn't online as much. Except I like watching films, and you'd miss me, and I really should stop being, well hung up, about these things.  I read a lot.  I really should stop feeling guilty about the lot being digital and non-fiction and I should have look through what's actually there and have a clear out.