Some words have been written about some films that were watched. I hope that you read it and are inspired to seek out – or indeed avoid – some of them.
The Emmy awards were last night, Breaking Bad won a bunch of stuff but True Detective got only one. Only ONE? Oh well, we are all beings labouring under the illusion of having a self because time is a flat circle and there’s no way around that.
Finally, RIP Lord Richard Attenborough.
Short Term 12 (2013) – 4/5
Director: Destin Daniel Crettin
Cast: Brie Larsson, John Gallagher Jr., Keith Stanfield, Kaitlyn Dever
Short Term 12 is one of those films which a reviewer is reluctant to write about for fear of doing it a disservice. Set in a suburban foster care home from which the title takes its name, Short Term 12 is a shelter for troubled, underprivileged teenagers with no place else to go. Day to day life is depicted as dreary and depressing, and having read first-hand accounts by ex-group home residents the film appears to paint an accurate picture of what it is like: lots and lots of waiting around, feeling scared and lonely, occasionally interacting with people and then running away when someone has an episode. Misery and hopelessness may be rife in treatment facilities such as Short Term 12, but it is the dedicated staff that can make all the difference, as Destin Daniel Crettin’s unexpectedly uplifting and affecting film demonstrates.
Brie Larsson is the heart and soul of the story, playing head care worker Grace with an emotional depth bordering on the heroic and more than warranting her multiple best actress awards. Grace is a fragile, traumatised character on a good day, while on bad days she’s an anxious, depressive wreck; what makes her so endearing is her perseverance in the most harrowing of situations as well as her commitment to protecting the children she so deeply cares for. When an abused self-loathing teenage girl named Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) enters the fray of the Short Term foster home, Grace is thrown back into the memories of her darkest days and reminded of the lifelong consequences of her coping mechanisms. Through her gentle guidance of the volatile yet vulnerable Jayden, Grace tries to save herself, her long term relationship and most of all her dear young friend. Short Term 12 has some haunting moments of grim reality but the overall message is one of vitality and hope.
Frances Ha (2012) – 3/5
Director: Noah Baumbach
Cast: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver, Michael Zegen
What would happen if Woody Allen wasn’t a neurotic, unfriendly crank? Noah Baumbach is what would happen. Arch member of the ‘Mumblecore’ movement (defined mostly by its lack of definable characters and regularly inaudible dialogue – hence mumble – more than anything else) Noah Baumbach took the indie-hipster world by storm with low-fi dramas The Squid and the Whale (2005) and Greenberg (2010), and his whimsical charm and snappy script writing abilities can be experienced once again in Frances Ha. Greta Gerwig (who starred alongside Ben Stiller in Greenberg) is the Frances of our story. She’s twenty-seven, bubbly, ‘booksmart’ and delightfully zany. She is also a failing dancer and, by the standards of the Tribeca socialites of New York, rather poor. When her joint apartment lease ends with best friend Sophie (the demure Mickey Sumner), Frances is cast out into the real world and forced to figure it all out. Just how does one become ‘a real person’? Who knows, but it’s pleasant to watch Frances mooch of her more financially and romantically successful associates, including future Sith lord Adam Driver, as she attempts to figure it out. It’s all captured in indulgently Woody Allen-y aspect ratios, and it’s even black and white, too.
Here is a clip of the charming opening scene, which effortlessly translates the freewheeling spirit of leading character Frances.
Interview With the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994) – 5/5
Director: Neil Jordan
Cast: Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Kirsten Dunst, Thandie Newton, Antonio Banderas
This film goes in hard. Recounting a tumultuous two hundred year existence in the span of a single evening, immortal hunter-of-the-night Louis de Pointe de Luc (Brad Pitt) entertains avid biographer Daniel Malloy (Christian Slater) with the tale of his undead life.
Interview With the Vampire exudes dread with glee and grace, and is as faithful to the genre and to the overall lore as any film since the O.G that is Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror. It enthrals and excites with its theatrical plot twists and tingling, dramatic score – adapted from the angelic Handel himself – but its musicality and thematic substance owe a lot to modern techniques too, which makes the context of the narration – set in a hotel in late 90’s San Fancisco – all the more fitting. Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, Michael Collins) has carved a magnificent filmic career making movies on subjects – mostly period pieces and historical conflicts – that many directors barely manage to eke a living out of, and his Interview With the Vampire is decadent magic, possessing a sumptuous gothic oeuvre to match the great horrors of old. His storytelling skill is best exemplified in the cross-Atlantic voyage from the new world of Missippi to the old, as Pitt’s Louis goes in search of his undying ancestors across ye olde Europe.
Brad Pitt is alright, Kisrten Dunst punches above her age, and Antonio Banderas is also in it but you can forget about him. Tom Cruise stands out most of all, not only because of his alarmingly luminescent complexion. You genuinely forget it’s him as you lie there in a state of blissful gratitude for his (rarely exhibited, these days) acting abilities in the role of the ever thirsting Lestat. His favoured aperitif – freshly drained rat’s blood – and captivating presence make him a hugely memorable and appealing villain… I’ll take Vampirism over Mormonism any day. One cannot deny the sexuality of a Vampire’s addiction; feeding off another’s life force is dominance of the most resolute kind, and in this film the nature of the bloodlust is captured strikingly well. The ending is inspired and oddly life affirming, and you’ll be seeking out the baroquely sombre soundtrack for days to come.
Sharknado 2: The Second One (2014) – 2/5
Director: Anthony C. Ferrante,
Cast: Ian Ziering, Tara Reid, Mark McGrath, Vivica A.Fox
Sharknado 2: The Second One (known during production as The Subway One due to the abhorrent number of ad placements for the speedy sandwich chain) seems unlikely in its very existence, yet here it is, with a bigger budget, bigger cameos and a bigger fan base than the original. As you can imagine from a sequel with such an intentionally lazy name, the plot isn’t much to speak of. Having saved Los Angeles from a downpour of mutant sharks, Fin (haha!) Shepard flies home to New York, only to have a typhoon of the marine killers follow him around the East Coast and up to the Big Apple, which is ripe for the eating.
The SyFy channel have topped their last fishy outing by cranking everything up to eleven. With a not inconsiderable boost to CGI, prop and Pun Writing departments it has really turned out to be not that bad. The word that is key to that previous statement because it is indeed still very bad. Sharknado’s waves of self-parody reach an all time high, or low, when lead Ian Ziering hops across some great whites, a la Indiana Jones, and his brother quips, ‘You know what you just did? You jumped the shark!’ Oh deary, deary me. On a not-at-all related note, I thought up a tagline for a Jaws themed buffet restaurant: ‘We’re gonna need a bigger belt’.
Antichrist (2009) – 3/5
Director: Lars Von Trier
Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Willem Dafoe
‘She’ (Charlotte Gainsbourg, of Nymphomaniac fame) and ‘He’ (Willem Dafoe, particularly excellent here) lose their curious toddler when he commits suicide as the pair have sex in the adjoining room. Stricken by an unassailable grief and totally unresponsive to His professionally qualified therapeutic techniques, She finally agrees to retire to their secluded cabin in the woods, which sounds like definitely a bad idea for characters in a film called Antichrist. And so it proves. Raining acorns, impenetrable mists, self-cannibalising animals and portentous para-normalities of all descriptions take a toll on the mental and physical sanity of the grieving couple, and through sexual manipulation they rapidly turn against one another. When He begins to suspect that there is treachery afoot (in the most literal sense possible), She reveals the true extent of her madness, which, considering He as the sane one starts talking to foxes, is really rather mad. Contains brutal self-mutilation, explicit sex scenes, and minute-long shots of trees for no reason.
And so we end. Below, the take home message from my week in film – courtesy of Lars Von Trier.