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Blunder Years – A Film Review

boyhood

REVIEWED BY CRITIC, FILM BUFF & BEER CONNOISSEUR F.P. BLUCK

PLACE: Dendy Civic, Cinema 1

PIC: Boyhood

PEEPS: 3 present in a venue that would take a few hundred

 

Such is Monday, such is Canberra and such is the problem of long and thoughtful films. Aside from the $%^&ing meerkat, of which I have written previously, the usual short Dendy ads. Expensive menswear*, booze in Fyshwick, a restaurant bar with (apparently) about two customers and slightly smeared glassware, pancakes. sushi, a framing gallery**, a club that supports women in sport. Previews for Wish I Was Here (Zach Braff, routine voyage of self-discovery, small role by Jim Parsons), The Judge (great cast – Robert Downey Jr, Robert Duvall, Billy Bob Thornton, Vincent D’Onofrio – in a Grishamish, but written by someone else, thriller about a judge charged with murder, his son the feral criminal defence creature, small towns etc) and Love, Rosie (girl and boy, friends since childhood, I think we all know where this is supposed to go). From which one might deduce that Boyhood is about relationships, possibly also involving alcohol, eating and art***. Well done, Dendy. It’s also about three hours, including pre-show, so sustenance may be required****.

I’m not sure my childhood lasted as long as this movie could have been, and it certainly had fewer highlights. Most people know by now that Boyhood has a bit of a Seven Up riff, with filming with the same cast spread over 12 years*****. Ellar Coltrane, who grows from cute little boy to 16 year old young man, is Mason, younger brother of Samantha (Lorelei Linklater). Their parents, who married way too young, are played by Patricia Arquette (Olivia) and Ethan Hawke (Mason Sr). They split and head off on their own trajectories. Both study and work to make the best of difficult lives; Olivia crashes through a tangled series of difficult relationships while Mason Sr gradually turns into the man Olivia thought she was marrying. In the meantime, Samantha and Mason Jr are exposed to emotions and issues that it would probably be best avoided by the young and tender. Their parents compete and conflict over the way the children should behave, the children watch the rawness of hope turning to pain and learn the sorrow of broken promises. Somehow, they make it through the milestones and start to understand those around them and become stronger people, capable of functioning in a world more complex than the generations before (represented by Libby Villari and Richard Andrew Jones outstanding in their small roles).

Boyhood has imperfections, in part due to its episodic structure and lack of a single defining event or resolution. It does not always take the easy way out – there are cues to the passage of time, but they vary and are less obvious than they might be. There is an underlying, and very American, optimism about the capacity to achieve success through hard work that may misunderstand the injustices, rigidities and handicaps inherent in any hierarchical society. For a non-American, studying a map of Texas****** in advance might be advised. Coltrane is solid and confident in his role and Hawke does great things with a talented character who manages to defer everything including adulthood for a time. But it is Arquette who comes through strongest, creating a vivid memory of a good and clever woman trying to find the best way through a life alone. Many will find it hard to watch this engaging actress at times.

Four flat whites, but one of those is just for trying something worthwhile though really hard and doing pretty well at it.

FPB

 

* – it’s one of those success-by-association ads – “Armani, Ted Baker, Hugo Boss, Whoever’s House of Clobber”.

** – amusingly situated near the police station and courts.

*** – there are, however, no meerkats.

**** – before the 11,00 am session, I chowed down on a sausage roll and a pot of tea from the bakery below.  Tastier, if no healthier, than popcorn.

***** – whatever else it may be, this is seriously courageous cinema for that reason if no other.

****** – it’s big and genuinely diverse in geography and population, but it could be difficult to know the significance attached to places that enable them to become shorthand for attitudes.

Gleaming Teeth

What We Do in the Shadows – A Film Review

what we do in the shadows

REVIEWED BY CRITIC, FILM BUFF & BEER CONNOISSEUR F.P. BLUCK

PLACE: Dendy Cinema 3

PIC: What We Do in the Shadows

PEEPS: About 50 present

I hate the #$%^ing meerkat ad. We got it, along with the usual bunch of short bites (sushi, menswear, framing, gifts, pancakes, booze) and the serious looking one for bar and restaurant that is curiously unlikely to inspire attendance*. Previews for Dracula Untold (lots of CGI and a script that sounds like it came from a random word generator), The Interview (James Franco and Seth Rogen set out to kill Kim Jong-Un who seems to get ridiculed a bit as well**) and Sin City (darkly luscious noir and a big cast that will need a pretty good story to justify it). So, the lesson is that the feature would involve humour, vampires and darkness***.

What We Do in the Shadows is set in the present day in NZ’s pretty capital city, Wellington, although it could be pretty well anywhere with a population in four of more digits. Inside an old house live four vampires with vaguely central European accents – seriously old Petyr (Ben Fransham), old and formerly powerful Vladislav (Jermain Clement), needy and annoying Viago (Taika Waititi) and youthful and lazy Deacon (Jonathan Brugh). They constitute a normal group house, with the usual tensions over housework and visitors that are explained by Viago to a visiting documentary film crew. Sometimes they go out, though they need to be invited into clubs**** and their need to snaffle promising people and drain them dry is a bit of a social handicap; sometimes they have standoffs with Wellington’s burgeoning werewolf community. Sometimes they, or their thirty-something female familiar, persuade people to come to the house where they will be attacked and drained after being subjected to the lads’ limited hospitality. The high point for the supernatural community is the masquerade ball, to be held in fairly ordinary premises. It cannot be an exciting life, but it’s eternal.

It’s not wholly satisfying, though the sketch comedy works well. Think of The Young Ones with very long teeth. Individual tropes work well, though scene endings can be a little ragged and there is not a consistent theme to follow. The script is amusing for the most part, with reactions to the social blunders of a newbie vampire being a high point. A feature film may not have been the right format; alternatively a film may have been better had it contained more unifying material or spent some time exploring the comedy inherent in much documentary-making.

The audience laughed like drains and a 95% Rotten Tomatoes rating (on a small sample) suggests there is a market which will lap it up like blood from an artery.

Three flat whites. Black pudding.

* – I have been to the premises in question, during the daytime when it attracts older people, and thought the place pretty good.
** – I’m guessing they’re not shooting for the Pyongyang Film Festival.
*** – the last two of which go together anyway.
**** – it’s a vampire thing. They can’t just walk in to someone else’s place.

Happy Families

August: Osage County– A Film Review

REVIEWED BY CRITIC, FILM BUFF & BEER CONNOISSEUR F.P. BLUCK
PLACE: Sunday, 1:00 pm. Limelight Tuggeranong, Cinema 2
PIC: August: Osage County
PEEPS: About forty present, 90% armed only with X chromosomes

Quite distinct from the mauling mass in the foyer, awaiting one of several serves of animated children’s fare. No-one who appeared to have been diverted from attendance at SummerNats, Canberra’s local BoganFest that attracts the mullet-wearers of much of the rest of Australia.

This is Tuggeranong, aka Tuggers, known as Canberra’s Nappy Valley until about fifteen years ago, so we had ads for fast food, an apartment hotel for visitors and, as is apparently required by law in Canberra, a jeweller. Previews for Divergent (a movie about some kind of genetic difference and why it leads to actors having to go through really tedious looking explanatory scenes) The Monuments Men (a bunch of comic actors dress up as soldiers and rescue great art from the Nazis) and Noah (Our Russ* works wonders for genetic diversity in the face of climate change). Nothing resembling a pattern.

August: Osage County is an adaptation of a play by Tracy Letts, and its bloodline shows in a production that is, inevitably, full of talking and high-profile acting. Out in the American West** poet Beverley Weston (a he, played briefly by Same Shepard) is a drunk, married to Violet (Meryl Streep), who has cancer, a prescription medicine habit and a talent for unrelenting nastiness that belongs in Australian politics. Beverley goes missing, and this brings the couple’s daughters and the rest of the family into the same zone. There’s Barbara (Julia Roberts), in the last days of her marriage to Bill (Ewan McGregor), accompanied by their teenage daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin). There’s scatty Karen (Juliette Lewis), about to marry the sleazy Steve (Dermot Mulroney). And there’s Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), still at or near home and in love with her cousin, Little Charley (Benedict Cumberbatch), the son of Violet’s sister Mattie Fay (Margo Martindale) and her husband Charlie (Chris Cooper). It’s an ensemble cast, and a very good one, well directed, playing wounded people, all at pivotal points in their lives.

Apparently unaided by CGI and special effects***, the plot that advances is one where secrets and deceits are revealed, the thin covering destroyed by the acid and bile that spews from Violet and, at times, from the other family members. It’s an opportunity to reflect on whether we survive as a society and as families because of the lies, or despite them. It’s savagery below the veneer, and one might wonder why unhappy families, despite being unhappy, get all the best lines in drama and in real life.

As indicated, the film is not unlike a stage production**** and at times it seems slow. But those slow passages are like watching the clouds gather for the next, inevitable, thunderstorm. Set mostly inside a poorly lit house, it may seem claustrophobic, but again this adds to its ultimate value as drama.

Four flat whites, at least one of them to wash the pills down. Not a date movie, unless one’s surname is Borgia.

FPB

* – the very fine and gifted Australian actor and sometime loudmouthed EnZedder boofhead.
** – specifically, Oklahoma, near its northern border with Kansas.
*** – I assume there were some effects, but that they fitted in and progressed the story, rather than creating it.
**** – compare 1982’s very fine Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (with a much weaker cast than this) and filmed adaptations of Tennessee Williams.

Miss Julie – “by Simon Stone after August Strindberg” @ Belvoir Theatre

 

belvoirsttheatre_missjulie

Simon Stone’s Miss Julie, playing at the Belvoir Theatre, brings us a shrilly precocious, teenage Julie (played by Taylor Ferguson in a stage debut) who wields her nymphet sexuality like a lightsaber she can’t quite get a grip of, and a likeable rogue, Jean, (Brendan Cowell), whose dreams of social mobility turn him into bumbling predator at the mercy of his own lust.

Stone’s adaptation shifts details to create a highly-strung tension relevant to a modern Australian audience. In the original Strindberg play from 1888, Julie is a nobleman’s 25 year old daughter whose tryst with “the help” (namely the socially ambitious servant, Jean) poses the threat of a scandal she fears she cannot live with. Stone seemingly deemed this suicidal Miss Julie scarcely believable in the 21st Century.

In this version, the moral danger is crafted by lowering Julie’s age to 16 and captures the very essence of the original story’s power struggle, which at the heart is about class and sex. The female lead’s father is ever-absent, having charged Jean, his driver, with the responsibility of minding his adolescent daughter and keeping her rebellious mischief out of the media spotlight.

Unapologetically contemporary, the audience is kept amused by references to Snapchat and online ordering, along with the delightfully coarse Australian lexicon. The glow of the Apple Mac icon is onstage almost as much as the characters are, beaming from Julie’s silvery laptop on which she checks the newspapers for reports on her or her high-profile politician father, or watches French films.

Cowell’s lechery is not quite of the Humbert Humbert calibre, and is almost (disturbingly) excusable. This could be because Julie’s virgin 16 seems threatening only in as much as it is illegal, a fact that Jean’s fiancé, Christine (Blazey Best) reminds him of, “I’ve looked it up, Jean. She was under our special care and you could get 8 years for this.”

Blasts of ominous fanfares composed by Pete Goodwin, engulf scenes at key moments with retro, cinematic high-drama. The climax mounts as troubled Julie’s desire to be loved clashes with her self-realisation of social status, and Jean’s inability to resist the under-aged temptress finally meets his dawning realisation that he’s bitten off more than he can chew. Then Strindberg fans can settle in for the classic character shredding of the second half.

“The moral of the story is, it shouldn’t be this easy for a dog to f*** a princess,” Jean snarls at Julie, but there’s got to be more to it than that.  Are the creators asking us to consider the psychic world of the Abbott girls?

As it all unravels, Stone steers the story so that it grazes the original ending and then hurtles into a very different kind of self-destruction for Julie. This might not please Strindberg diehards but director, Leticia Caceres, certainly works up a crowd-pleasing, bloodlusty finale.

Cast

  • Miss Julie (Taylor Ferguson)
  • Christine (Blazey Best)
  • Jean (Brendan Cowell)
  • Composer Pete Goodwin (aka, the Sweats)
  • Director: Leticia Caceres

Article Written by Estelle Pigot via Design Federation

MUSCLEBOUND – Pain & Gain movie review

pain-and-gain

REVIEWED BY CRITIC, FILM BUFF & BEER CONNOISSEUR F.P. BLUCK

PLACE: Dendy, Cinema

PIC: Pain and Gain

PEEPS: A congregation of six.

A feature that is longer than usual equates to fewer ads: don’t copy movies, buy the DVD of Warm Bodies, eat and drink healthy things, wear lots of jewellery and join the Navy.  Not all at the same time, necessarily.  It also meant fewer previews: RED2 and the 2013 version of Anchorman.  Both appear to have been successful the first time around but there is no law that says there must always be a sequel or a prequel.

There’s unlikely to be a sequel to Pain and Gain, in part because a number of characters are… ummm… dead, and a plausible plot would require a major leap from the “true story” shtick.

Or, just maybe, zombies.

The plot is said to be a true story, a fact which the viewer is reminded about on a few occasions.  Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) is a gym instructor who is empowered with the success message from Johnny Wu (Ken Jeong) and becomes unsatisfied with the limited version of the “American Dream” that he lives.  He partners up with born-again Christian/cokefiend Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) and mainstream-if-manic Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie). This intrepid trio have blurry vision and the collective intelligence of pondlife.

They kidnap the comfortably rich and ever-so-slightly dodgy Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub) and force him to sign over his assets to them.  While their standard of living improves, the plan quickly goes awry, notwithstanding the blundering of the local Miami police. As with many dreamers and visionaries, our heroes eventually wake up, by which time they are in a layer of squelchy stuff so deep and so malodorous that their futures are somewhat confined.

rebel-wilson-and-anthony-mackie-star-in-new-pain-gain-

There are things one could dislike deeply about this movie, principally the casual and humorous depiction of excruciating violence (at least some of which presumably happened, given that this is a true story) and the failure to push the socio-politico-cultural point about a society that limits options for many while asserting that those who cannot participate fail through their own actions.  But there is enough to balance those problems.  The three leads have obviously buffed to the max for their roles, and that is something that will please a segment of the audience.

The social point is identified, even if it is not pressed.  There is a small Oz moment (even if it is Rebel Wilson*) and a well-balanced performance from Ed Harris as a private detective.  There are some genuinely funny moments as the leads discover that their values are not especially well considered.

And, in the grey days of late Canberra winter, there’s Florida to look at.  It’s not the worst movie this year, but it could have been better.

 

Three flat whites. Light soy.  No sugar or sweetener.

 

FPB

 

 

* – playing a loudmouthed and unintelligent woman, so not a big stretch from her usual roles.

Hard Stuff – The Hunt

FILM REVIEW: THE HUNT

the-hunt-fpbluck-review

REVIEWED BY CRITIC, FILM BUFF & BEER CONNOISSEUR F.P. BLUCK

PLACE: Palace Electric, Cinema 7

PIC: The Hunt

PEEPS: About 10 present

 

Palace definitely has better previews than some others: Behind the Candelabra (Michael Douglas and Matt Damon play house as Liberace and friend) and a French thing called In The House, which looks better than ordinary as a talented student turns creative writing into something more visceral. The ads were pretty much yada yada yada; real estate, Honda, food. Coffee beforehand was ok.

The Hunt is about as far from Man of Steel or any other redrawn cartoon as it is possible to be. (Not that I’ve seen Man of Steel yet but the previews give little ground for expecting more than a surface level sweep and less irony than a Macca’s commercial). Full of complicated people (you know, like actual humans) and empty of CGI or other whitewashes over an average production. It’s set in a small, close-knit Swedish community where people go about their daily lives, brightening them with deer hunting and (more particularly) the celebration of a blokey culture around the business of killing Bambi and friends. One member of the group is Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen), helping out in a kindergarten after the local boys’ school closed; his duties seem mostly to involve being jumped upon by small, giggling children. Lucas is estranged from his wife and desperate to see more of his teenage son Marcus. His best friend is Theo (Tomas Bo Larsen) whom he has known since childhood, but he is slowly drifting into a relationship with Nadja (Alexandra Rapaport).

The event that turns an idyll into a drama is that Theo’s daughter, Klara (Annika Wedderkop, in a performance of stunning maturity for a very young child), accuses Lucas of sexual abuse. The response of the kindergarten principal, Grethe, is completely understandable but it creates an impossible situation. Lucas’ lifestyle and relationships are destroyed in a sequence that plays out over a grey Scandinavian winter, even as he tries to go through a semblance of his normal life. He and Marcus encounter violence and rejection from those who, reasonably enough, are repelled by the monster living in their town.

twoflatwhites_thehunt-filmreview

Too often, films find an easy way through something that challenges the way a society sees itself, and that happens here, to some extent. But this film also creates a jumping off point for a debate about one of the hardest issues in public policy and private conduct; at what point is a threat, which may or may not have substance, sufficient to warrant a destructive response? No-one wants a paedophile in his or her neighbourhood, town, state or (in fact) dimension, and for good reason, they are horrible and should not be able to give effect to their desires. Yet, at what point in the matrix of reliable evidence and gravity of threat is it reasonable to react? Where evidence is recognised as unreliable, at what point is it sensible to disregard the threat it engenders?  Can a community, and should it, act so as to restore a social position?  Can we forgive a wrong that may never have been, and can a victim forgive a wrong done in anger and just outrage?

See it with a teacher, a philosopher, a police officer, but allow time for its complexity to sink in before speaking. If thinking about the plot and its implications gets too hard – as it must – think about some riveting performances and a landscape that seems to require seriousness of thought.

Four flat whites.

FPB

Hanging On – The Hangover

The Hangover III

 the-hangover-3

FILM REVIEWED BY CRITIC, FILM BUFF & BEER CONNOISSEUR F.P. BLUCK

PLACE:LImelight Cinema 2

PIC: The Hangover III

PEEPS: 2 present

LImelight ads are sort of different.  Foxtel this time, plus a couple of ISPs.  Previews for The Heat (ill-matched cop buddy movie with women), Fast and Furious 6,  Grown Ups 2 (I’ll just say it includes Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock and David Spade before disinfecting the keyboard) and and Superman:  The Unpteenth Remake or whatever it’s called*.

“When I became a man, I put away these childish things**”.

This is number three in the franchise, as the title suggests, and it looks like it has run out of steam***.   Alan (Zach Galifianakis) has been off his medication for a while and is clearly becoming an ageing embarrassment to those around him.  Essentially, he’s a  non-too-stable 13-year-old in a chubby 42-year-old body.   So, naturally (this being the USA) his friends arrange an intervention where he is prevailed upon to enter treatment.  They (Bradley Cooper as Phil, Ed Helms as Stu and Justin Bartha as Doug) have all started to act like adults, and they offer to take Alan to the treatment facility.  Meanwhile, Lesley Chow (Ken Jeong) has staged a Shawshank Redemption escape from prison in Thailand.  Can we see where this is going? …Because if we can’t, we’re probably the target audience for a film like this****.

THE HANGOVER PART III

It’s not as vile as some reviews may have suggested.  There are some OK sight gags but they are overpowered by the racial/sexual overtones surrounding the treatment of Mr Chow***** and the mental condition of Alan.  It sets out to be a movie about Alan’s much delayed attainment of maturity.  By definition, this forces the other members of the group to emphasise safe, caring, suburban values.  In a way, the discomfort shown by Phil at some of the things said and done is as much about the fact that Bradley Cooper’s career has moved on and up and that returning to this particular bowl of nonsense isn’t likely to do him any good.  Ed Helms has a growing status as a character actor but it is difficult to see where Galifianakis can go next.

 

Two flat whites.  The thing cost $62 million.

 

FPB

 

* – ok, I checked.  It’s called Man of Steel and gives Our Russ an opportunity to intone in a voice that could sell drinking chocolate to anyone.

** – I Corinthians 13:11

*** – with that said, even I could see a couple of start points for another one.  Don’t. Go. There.

**** – grubby minded teenagers fed up with constraints and having to do homework, and such.

***** – hint.  The fact that someone is Asian and effeminate does not make everything that person says or does funny.  And people with mental illness have not been used as sources of amusement for many years in some societies.

Whitebread Magic – The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

-the-incredible-burt-wonderstone-

FILM REVIEWED BY CRITIC, FILM BUFF & BEER CONNOISSEUR F.P. BLUCK

PLACE: 10:10, Hoyts Woden, Cinema 8.

PIC: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.

PEOPLE: One, un, uno, ein.

If one is the only one in an enormous cinema, and one still sits in the allocated seat, should one give a damn?

The ads include the now-grating PillowTalk summer ad – we’ve been having single digit nights for a while here, and summer is probably over. Other highlights include Nepali food, sportspeople counselling against drinking and driving. Lexus. More previews than one could possibly absorb and enough to create some concern about what was about to appear. The Host (Stephenie Meyers and aliens or something), Iron-Man 3, GI Joe:Retaliation, Man of Steel*. And Scary Movie 5, which looks like the usual chundering of cliches, but this time with Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan**. How the potentially quite good have fallen!

And it was a decline from grace that we (well, I) saw in the feature. The small boy who became Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) was small, geeky and neglected in 1982 but found a love of magic and a friend, who became his side-kick/co-star Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi).

Years later, they strut the stage At Bally Casino in Las Vegas, delivering the same show every night for proprietor Doug Munny (James Gandolfini), while leading a life of prodigal luxury. The fall is fast, with the arrival of Steve Gray, the Brain Rapist (Jim Carrey), a magician whose work and persona are provocative, abrasive and disturbing. The team breaks up, and finds different grades of misery while Steve Gray goes from strength to strength and Burt finds counsel in the old magician Rance Holloway (well-played by Alan Arkin.)

olivia wilde wonderstone

So, will the boys get back together? Will they recover their old status? Will Steve Gray get a big smack in the face with a hubris pie? Will Burt get Jane (Olivia WIlde) the girl he really loves**? Is this an American movie?

This movie is pretty competent and fairly harmless, the latter of which is its main problem. Even the out-there stunts of Steve Gray are merely unpleasant rather than genuinely confronting. Probably safe for most audiences, like most big-stage magic acts. But there is, with respect, no magic in it.

Two skinny flat whites. Some kind of artificially-sweetened, gluten-free pretend biscuit.

FPB

* – yup, another Superman movie. This time, though, there seem to be some lovely shots of small-town America before the silliness starts.

** – he could have been a great actor, but remains my wished-for role model. She less so.

*** – he’s 50, she’s 32. Has my whole life been missing something?

Suspenders – ‘Hitchcock’ film review

Hitchcock – A Film Review

-hitchcock

REVIEWED BY CRITIC, FILM BUFF & BEER CONNOISSEUR F.P. BLUCK

The local baseball club ad is really awful and I want to attack my eyes with a sharp object when I see it*. Previews for The Impossible (scarily real tsunami-stuff with Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts playing roles occupied in real life by Spanish people) and Zero Dark Thirty (interrogators nearly as brutal and effective as parents, leading to the death of Osama Bin Laden).

[Corpulent old guy appears on screen similar to though better dressed than your scribe. Speaks fluidly as one would imagine an unfit beagle speaking, if it could, in a palimpsest of an East End accent.]  “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Tonight’s production tells the tale of a prolific director, no longer young, and his well-organised wife as they develop a new film for presentation to the public. There is also some ambiguity about the nature of their relationship, and you may notice some references to the work of the late Mr Hitchcock”.

What follows is a fine piece of work setting the context in which Alfred Hitchcock directed Psycho. Serious film historians can debate bits of the story – the extent of studio support, the extent of Alma Hitchcock’s control over the creation – but most of us will see it as sound storytelling. That story is of a self-centred auteur with a flock of personal demons and an unshakeable faith in his own specialised genius, who realises he needs to recover from some relative failures. He receives support from his long-suffering wife Alma, who manages what he cannot, and who acts as the mother figure which so troubled the director**. He fights the minions and titans of the corporate film world and outflanks the naysayers of censorship who inexplicably object to possible scenes of a naked woman being hacked to death with a knife. His most consistent ally is not always Alma, but the spirit of Ed Gein, the perpetrator of the macabre crimes which inspired the book and the film.

hitchcock-hopkins-mirren-johansson

The performances are strong. While Anthony Hopkins (Hitchcock) and Helen Mirren (Alma) should receive most of the praise, they provide only a robust structure. There is sound work putting flesh on the bones by Scarlett Johansson (as Janet Leigh), Toni Collette (as Peggy Robertson, the assistant director), James D’Arcy (as Anthony Perkins) and Jessica Biel (as Vera Miles). The settings are limited, but attractive (the Hitchcock home being a semi-Gothic masterstroke). “In Hollywood, you are only as good as your last film”, Hitchcock at one point intones. Hitchcock’s last film, in real life, was Family Plot, a poor example of his work (I saw it in 1976 or 77, and do not want to repeat the experience. Ever). This is a much better memory.

Three flat whites and a babycino, with a 1960-style chocolate eclair.

FPB

* – no objection to baseball, for those who can’t understand cricket and don’t care about their duty as Australians.

** – look at Psycho, and at this film’s references to betrayal by actresses who preferred to be mothers and its depiction of Hitchcock’s direction of actresses.

Buckets of Blood – Django Unchained

Django Unchained – Film Review

django-unchained-tarantino

REVIEWED BY CRITIC, FILM BUFF & BEER CONNOISSEUR F.P. BLUCK

11 am Hoyts for Django Unchained with a pretty blokey 30 or so viewers.

A new homewares ad and an appealingly funny one for being sane when one’s friends are drunk. A few previews – Hansel and Gretel: WItchhunters looks as stupid as one can imagine a film to be that is  based on a revenge theme, an unlikely buddy pairing and dialogue a couple of centuries wrong.  Then there was Zero Dark Thirty (dealing with Osama Bin Laden, for revenge) and, bizarrely, The Great Gatsby (Baz Luhrmann, anachronistic music, a spot of iconoclasm).  Would we be seeing a movie that involved a good deal of revenge but also featured unlikely buddies and a spot of time-shifting in attitudes and speech?

Of course we were!  All up something north of three hours of it.

The unlikely pairing is Schultz; a bounty hunter masquerading as a travelling dentist (Christoph Waltz) and Django (Jamie Foxx); a slave whom he liberates from a chain gang being marched across some of the less hospitable bits of Texas in 1858.  Schultz is German, so can get away with accented irony and a killer raised eyebrow.  They seek out and kill some routine criminals for reward* and then set out to rescue Mrs. Broomhilda Django (Kerry Washington) from the clutches of crazy Calvin Candie (Leonardo Di Caprio**), his Uncle Tom of a butler, Stephen (Samuel L Jackson***) and a number of supporting actors.  That’s pretty much it.

Stylish?  Certainly, though some of the music was bizarre and the casual dialogue from the 1970s.  The credits and the theme music were a genuflection to spaghetti westerns with a great deal of violence.  Violence of every sort – considered, unconsidered, generic and personal –  much of it in extreme and visceral detail****.   There is lots of swearing and a great deal of (presumably accurate in 1858) use of a despicable term for black people.  Did I mention the violence?

django-unchained-2012

An Oz cameo towards the end by John Jarratt, and one by Tarantino using an accent that sounded like Dick van Dyke’s Mary Poppins cockney coached by a Korean who’s trying to sound South African.  A genuinely hilarious intervention by a forerunner of the Ku Klux Klan.  Oh, and the violence.

Did it mean anything apart from the obvious?  The obvious being that slavery is a Very Bad Thing, an appalling infliction of indignity and the cruel subjection to the whims of another because of the happenstance of race.  Not a contentious proposition. There’s an attempt to shoehorn meaning in by telling a truncated version of the German Brunnhilde story.  I was looking for a more contemporary political message to go with the dialogue but couldn’t really see much to support it.

Four flat whites.  I don’t think my stomach could keep a pastry down.  And real blokes don’t do sweet stuff anyway.

 

FPB

 

* – Schultz takes a pragmatic view of the “wanted: dead or alive” concept.  Dead men, presumably, challenge no warrants.  Plus they don’t try to escape and they don’t need to be fed.  They would, I suppose, start to smell after a day or so but most people stank in those days.  Django just seems to like shooting white people and it’s a bonus to be paid.

** – This is a really weird role and Di Caprio plays it straight.  Candie is simply an appalling human being of limited intellect and some beliefs that could be called eccentric.

*** – There are not many actors who could play Stephen and bring any subtlety to the role, but Jackson does so.  Some of his lines were painful for an ageing liberal white person to hear.

**** – Yes, it’s over the top in quantity and its graphic depiction.  Yes, it’s probably clever and ironic, Tarantino being one of the few cinematic geniuses.  But, if someone does not view realistic depictions of pain, humiliation and violence with equanimity, it’s probably a film better avoided.

 

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