Archive for category movies
A side effect of knowing so many film critics is that your December is inevitably filled with talk of Top Ten lists. I’ve never felt comfortable ranking art; I even hate having to score movies out of five. (Blame how terrible I was at sport when I was young. Second place is just the first loser, kids!) Stacking films against each other always makes me feel a little like I’m rating the hotness of my ex-girlfriends or something equally as creepy.
That said, reading everyone else’s Best Ofs is a great way to discover films I missed, and some were nice enough to pester me about what I enjoyed in 2012 for that same reason.
Here’s the thing, though: those who know me in what we laughingly refer to as ‘real life’ might be aware I’ve had a tough year. I wrote about what it’s meant for how I’ve absorbed art lately over at Bookslut. It means I’ve missed a lot of movies – including some that I actually saw, beginning to end. I was somewhere else.
I more easily enjoyed films that were silly, like Whit Stillman’s surprise tonal sequel to Clueless, Damsels in Distress. Or cerebral, like Andrey Zvyagintsev’s character-before-crime piece Elena. Or bombastic enough to thunder through the noise in my head: the operatic Margaret, the IMAXed and Inception-horned Dark Knight Rises, the first and last scenes of Killing Them Softly. What was between those scenes in Softly was pretty great, too.
Depression made me impervious to some films aiming for grand emotion, most notably Beasts of the Southern Wild. I appreciated its aesthetic, but anything more bounced off me and ricocheted into the dark. There were other much-loved films I found entertaining enough – Argo, The Avengers, Holy Motors – but any impression they made faded soon after. I’d need to see them a second time to know if they’re to blame for that, or if I am.
Exceptions to the above: Andrew Haigh’s lo-fi romantic drama Weekend. I interviewed him about it here. It broke my heart so gradually I almost didn’t notice it’d stopped beating. The documentary Searching for Sugar Man broke my heart early and just kept on grinding it to pieces until the credits rolled. Andrea Arnold’s adaptation of Wuthering Heights had the kind of deft, deep poetic imagery most films can only dream of. And Hugo – Scorsese’s lecture on early cinema Trojan Horsed into a kid’s fantasy – hurt me with its plea that “time hasn’t been kind to old movies”.
2012 was also, unexpectedly, the Year I Got To Hang Out With Paul Thomas Anderson For A Whole Evening. Hosting a daunting Q&A with Anderson for Melbourne’s Astor Theatre meant I was predisposed to love The Master – but was enthralled by it, anyway. It’s the single most romantic film of the year, and whatever oblique moments or meanings it contains paled against that romance for me. Offstage, I told Anderson I was surprised to see so many talking about how “difficult” The Master was. He responded, incredulous: “I know, right?”
Mostly, last year, I remembered the solace of genre; the joy of conventions as satisfying when followed as when broken. I loved Josh Trank’s Chronicle, and thought it tapped into the dark logic of superhero stories better than its blockbuster equivalents. Takashi Miike’s Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai was an incredibly effective slow-burn tragedy, with one reveal that made me gasp out loud like I was guest starring in a panto.
As Rian Johnson’s Looper unspooled on the screen, it was the most unthinkingly what-will-happen-next-? I was in any film in 2012. (Once I got used to Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s makeup, anyway.) The way Looper combined so many strands of sci-fi into something so satisfying reminded me of The Matrix, all those years ago, and seeing it a second time better opened up its melancholic core.
And how do I explain my love of poor, poor John Carter? So many people I know, with opinions I respect, could barely even make it through Andrew Stanton’s labour of love. Is it my fondness of old-fashioned pulp that let me find so much magic here where others found none? My post-Friday Night Lights crush on Taylor Kitsch? The fact it arrived already labelled as the year’s biggest fiasco? With each gleefully terrible review, I admit I found myself wanting to like it more.
Did I Tinkerbell-clap it to life? I don’t think so.
I’m wary of criticism that’s about the author first and the art a distant second, and I know the above might read that way. What 2012 taught me, however, is that while cinema opens us up to new worlds we only ever watch it with our own eyes.
So what have I been doing for the past couple of months that’s precluded me from rambling about popular culture here? Working on screenplays, mostly. (One down! One with a long, long way to go!) But I’ve also been doing plenty of film-related interviews for Time Out, so here are some recent highlights:
Experimental filmmaker Guy Maddin talks about his body of work, the development of his visual style, and his mistrust of cinematic ‘realism’.
Skins’ actor Kaya Scodelario on the challenges of playing Cathy in Andrea Arnolds’ new, poetic adaptation of Wuthering Heights.
Geoffrey Wright looks back at his controversial Romper Stomper on its 20th anniversary, and tells why just-starting-out filmmakers should take more risks.
Bollywood superstar Vidya Balan discusses lascivious winking,’virtual sex’, and shifts in Hindi cinema.
Here’s Claudio Simonetti of Goblin on how a young Italian rock band created one of the most famous horror soundtracks of all time for Dario Argento’s Suspiria.
And B-movie legend Larry Cohen – of It’s Alive, God Told Me To, and The Stuff – explains why most Hollywood films are so screwed up.
(Yeah, it’s directors. Goddamn directors.)
A few years ago, Samuel Cohen died at age 89 in his Los Angeles home. He was the inventor of the neutron bomb – a bomb designed to kill the enemy while leaving the surrounding infrastructure untouched. He called it “the most sane weapon ever devised”.
It seems like summer blockbusters have the opposite problem. In films like Transformers: Dark of the Moon and The Darkest Hour we see entire cities crumbling and destroyed – but what about the humans? These movies still want to rack up a decent bodycount but can’t have bloody bodies lying around. They’ve got to avoid a rating that’d prevent young audiences from buying tickets, after all. And stories about alien invasions don’t get to play the Saving Private Ryan card of historically accurate, ‘important’ violence.
The weaponsmiths of the evil Decepticons of Transformers and the invisible aliens of Darkest Hour reached the same solution: disintegration. No blood, no gore, no bodies left behind. Just show bodies turning to ash, show the ash spiralling in the wind, and then show them gone. Vanished. Now your next cool action set piece won’t be choking on leftover corpses!
Old westerns used to be mocked for the way that cowboys would just clutch their chests and die instantly and painlessly – but at least we saw them fall. They didn’t just flicker away like cannon fodder in a videogame. A PG-rated Hiroshima is its own kind of hell.
Daniel Clowes’ comic The Death Ray is a sort of decoder ring for the violent, adolescent urges behind Michael Bay’s Transformers. Not only does its titular weapon not leave anything behind; we don’t see the disintegration at all. Instead Clowes tucks all the violence into the gutter between panels, leaving only a bloodless there-one-moment, gone-the-next. Andy, the boy who becomes a vigilante named for the gun, has a recurring nightmare:
“There was this street with these big white berries growing on it, and as soon as a person ate one they would start to disappear. This process seemed to be both physically painful and super-terrifying.” He says that no matter what, he “couldn’t get away from the nothingness.”
The nothingness. Most sane. Super-terrifying.
Steven Spielberg made his own post-Private Ryan sci-fi film: War of the Worlds. Its aliens were also fond of disintegration. (Blame H.G. Wells.) But the way Spielberg visually linked the leftover ash to the aftermath of 9/11 gave it gravity – and he was respectful enough to ensure something was left. Even if it was just the victims’ clothes, fluttering to the ground.
Everyone knows there’s a new Muppet movie in cinemas now. The tagline is “MUPPET DOMINATION”, after all. They’re obviously taking no prisoners where publicity’s concerned. It’s the plot of James Bobbin and Jason Segel’s new film The Muppets, too: how to best return these characters from pop cultural obscurity to their rightful position as entertainment icons?
The good news: the movie’s very enjoyable. The concept used to introduce brothers Gary and Walter – one human, one muppet – is a clever one; the songs are mostly great; Jason Segel’s excitement at being surrounded by these puppets is palpable. I laughed, I cried. And yet…
The bad news: the voices are wrong. For the first hour of the movie I cringed every time Fozzie or Piggy spoke. It’s like seeing your favourite band play but hearing a cover song boom out of the speakers. It made me feel a little bit like I was going mad.
This isn’t the first time. When Jim Henson died, and Kermit’s voice changed forever, I remember thinking that maybe the character should’ve been retired. But that’s a selfish thought – why shouldn’t new generations enjoy Kermit, just to spare my feelings? New voices won’t matter to the kids who see the film. That’s how it should be.
It’s harder to take in The Muppets because Frank Oz – the man who gave life to Fozzie and Piggy – is still alive. The fact that Oz was unhappy with the script and worried it didn’t “respect the characters” did affect my viewing experience. Couldn’t they find some way to allay his concerns and get him on board?
It doesn’t always serve art to give creators the final say over their creations. Everyone alive agrees the Star Wars universe would be much improved if someone had found a way to ignore George Lucas’ whims. Everyone except Lucas, anyway.
It comes down to this: what is a muppet? Is it a character that should stay an extension of its creator or creators? Or is a muppet a Robin Hood or a Sherlock Holmes or a Batman, kept alive by dozens and dozens of different interpretations by artists good and bad?
(Or, as Homer Simpson once said, a muppet might be “not quite a mop and it’s not quite a puppet… but man! So to answer your question, I don’t know.”)
My favourite new Muppet story isn’t the film. It’s the muppet comic book by Roger Langridge from a few years ago. They mimic the format of the 1970s Muppet Show, keeping its anarchic humour while managing some beautiful character moments. His muppets are pencil-and-ink abstractions of already abstracted foam-and-felt, but they’re absolutely alive.
Ignore the funk revelations of the decade-old Muppets in Space movie. Langridge provides the definitive answer to Gonzo the Great’s true identity, completing an emotional journey that began in 1979’s The Muppet Movie as he sang ‘I’m Going To Go Back There Someday’.
Scooter asks Gonzo: “Tell me… please… what the heck are you??”
And Gonzo replies: “Oh, Scooter. I thought you knew. I’m an artist.”