After all, it's just a ride….

Film

John Hurt RIP (1940 – 2017)

I think this says it all;


Manchester By The Sea (2017)

m1It’s always January isn’t it? That somewhat bleak, recuperation and recovery month when the cinemas suddenly resonate with the flotsam and jetsam of the previous year, especially the award attuned ‘serious’ cinema that dominate the discourse of the Oscars, the Golden Globes, the BAFTA’s and all the others. I recall going to see Kenneth Lonergan’s previous troubled film Margaret during a chilly January release, a long gestating project that required the intervention of luminaries such as Scorsese – yes him again – just to complete the films editing and guarantee a limited domestic and international release. Five years later his follow-up Manchester By The Sea arrives on a gilded cushion of critical praise, already clutching a panoply of awards and nominations, with acting and screenplay nods seemingly guaranteed with this years Academy Awards are announced next Tuesday. When we first meet Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) we quickly parse that he’s a withdrawn and troubled soul, working as a handyman cum janitor in a quiet Massachusetts coastal town, prone to bouts of drunken violence in a local bar, while resisting the advances of men and woman into his hermetic, almost monastic world. A frosty morning phone call sets the story in motion – his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has passed away from a long-suffering cardiac condition, summoning Lee back to the titular Manchester to conduct the various legal and bereavement arrangements, also nominating Lee as the temporary guardian of his sixteen year old nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges) since their alcoholic mother Elise (Gretchen Moll) fled, or was exiled from the family a few years earlier.

ms2Beware gentle reader, consider yourselves seriously warned, as this film is fucking heartbreaking. Through an expertly orchestrated lattice-work of flashbacks we incrementally learn of Lee’s tragic back-story, ignited and recalled in his imagination by the stresses and strains of the present’s new emotional responsibilities, with many of  his fellow townsfolk whispering of a dark history when his back is turned. Affleck has always struck me as a haunting presence, malevently malefic in Oscar nominated turns such as The Assassination Of Jesse James etc., adroitly amusing in the Oceans movies, genuinely certifiable in The Killer Inside Me. But beneath that sinister edge there is a vulnerability which reminds one of Montgomery Clift or early career Sean Penn, and he is perfectly cast and perfectly plays those qualities to the fore in Manchester By The Sea, wracked with guilt and withdrawn from the pains of the world, suddenly thrust into a new lexicon of blood-tied responsibilities that he struggles to surpass. Having listened to a recent WTF interview with him he knows from bitter experience the impact parental psychosis can levy on the family unit, how rage and for some substance abuse clouds deeper haunting problems of the psyche, and he seems to be drawing from that personal reservoir for this shattering performance. He’s a different man, happier, genial and invigorated by life in flashback, a severe counterpoint to the muted husk we follow in the present day, he’s bulls-eyed a nomination and potential Oscar win and this controlled and internalised turn would be my front runner for February.

m8This is very much a winter film, shot with a shivering authenticity in the small coastal town of Manchester which squats an hours drive from Boston, perfectly melding the seasonal torpor with the Chandler family tragedies. It’s a generationally blue collar community where the denizens love their hockey and basketball, they enjoy fishing with their buddies so they can enjoy a beer or seven, the blood ties that bind forming the spine of the community. Lonergan is too much a respectful chronicler of the human condition, of our frustrations and foibles to offer any pandering solutions to torment, he doesn’t posit such platitudes that  obliterating events may ever heal or regenerate. Still, beneath that bitter observation there is  a quiet tender core to the film as fragments of joy and relief still remain, and the continued affection between Lee and his nephew –  an amusing Lothario in training – has also earned Lucas Hedges a deserved Oscar nomination.

ms3While there is a drizzle of observational humour to alleviate the oppression Lonergan is also an expert  in the minutia   of day to day life, the small quiet moments signalled by the slight curves of a smile or a painful sideways glance, those miniscule moments of unconscious communication which can transmit more than a thousand word soliloquy. It’s also a treatise not only on the repercussions of tragedy and bereavement but on the administration of death, the protocols of passing. Who makes the phone calls to impart the terrible news? How do you arrange the details with the undertakers, and whom arranges storage of the cadaver when the ground is to cold to commit to a service? Anyone who is suffering some density of family strife and struggle – in other words 99.9% of the human race – will find the film brimming with empathy while perhaps an exhausting experience, expertly modulated and paced with key information being revealed in key emotional flashbacks, which as narrative devices are revealed with maximum effect. Sometimes the unvarnished truth of our lives and their unresolved and  messy strands need to be reflected on screen, to remind us that we’re not alone, and not everyone can easily shoulder the burdens of their lives, the destructive decisions and drives, as traditional resolutions would have us believe. It’s very early I know, we’re barely a month into the year, but this deeply moving and tragic film is a certain contender for one of the years best;


Academy Award Nominations 2017

oscar2017Yes, it’s that time of the year again. I must admit to finding it difficult to muster any genuine enthusiasm for this years announcements, I have made a concerted effort in seeing some of the inevitable nominees this month, with Jackie still to see when it opens toward the end of the week, and Moonlight soon after which I’m really looking forward to given the exemplary feedback. For my sins I’ve been toying with going to see Hacksaw Ridge despite the rather eyeball rolling trailers, I’m also not sure I wish to contribute to the coffers of Mel Gibson even with the rudimentary pennies that would be allocated through my Cineworld Card, but I’ve heard that the action sequences are equivalent in power and brutality to Saving Private Ryan, so being a weird sort of cruelty junkie that has piqued my interest. As it stands I’ve never, in now a venerable ten years of conducting this ridiculous and infinitely pointless exercise (in public) managed more than a 60% or 65% accuracy rate with my predictions, but we live in hope and its just a piece of pointless frivolity to while away the endless days until we all die. So as always the rules are to bold the films I’ve seen, italic the films I think should win, and underline those I think will win, with the everlasting caveat that I haven’t seen everything, so am having to make some choices based on compromised information.

osc201Amusingly, as I write this I am catching up on a few of last years blockbusters, namely In dependence Day 2 and X-Men Apocalypse, both of which, as expected, are total gash. this industry really needs to start rethinking itself along these high exposure, high visibility lines, as some of the rumours I’ve heard coming out of the disgruntled technicians and junior players are growing increasingly depressed with their products, as the studio executives and senior producers simply not caring about plot inconsistencies, illogical scripts – they are literally telling them not to worry as the audience don’t care, and the spectacle and energy of the films are enough to play in China and other developing international markets – depressing. More positively the ceremony has already caused history, as La La Land enters the exalted trio of films with the most nominations in history – 14 – joining All About Eve and Titanic, even Gone With The End only managed a paltry 13 nods. Looking through the nominees I note that we now have to go and see Lion  which didn’t exactly grab my attention from the trailer but I’m willing to be surprised, but I draw the line at Fantastic Beasts in the SFX category which I have absolute zero interest in. It’s good to see Arrival warping into so many nominations, but  lets face it La La Land is going to obliterate this years ceremony – completely. We are in dire need of some simple, unadulterated colourful escapism right now, not to mention the slightly more worrying prospect of a temperature in the culture of yearning for an allegedly simpler, more prosperous earlier time, no matter how warped and unglued from reality that nostalgia may be.  It’s not a criticism per se of the movie, but for a Los Angeles set film it is spectacularly Caucasian, innocent and defiantly individualistic, where even human relationships and warmth are sacrificed on the altar of unimpeded commercial success and wealth;

Best Picture

la3

Only nine nominees eh? Strange number, but here we are. Not having seen Moonlight this is a difficult one to judge, I think we can assume that Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Lion and Hidden Figures are the outliers. La La Land will take it down to Chinatown, however….

Arrival
Fences
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Lion
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight

Best Director

hack

no Kelly Reichardt for Certain Women? What a travesty, but it looks like the rehabilitation of Mel is complete, right? Well, out of those I’ve seen both Lonergan and Villeneuve conduct exemplary work at either end of the scale – one a tiny, modest, performance scoped drama, the other a major technical blockbuster with empathic and narrative fracturing elements. Jenkins for Moonlight is a long shot but you never know, but I still think Chazelle is gonna win…….

Arrival – Denis Villeneuve
Hacksaw Ridge – Mel Gibson
La La Land – Damien Chazelle
Manchester by the Sea – Kenneth Lonergan
Moonlight – Barry Jenkins

Best Actor

casey

Not wishing to prejudice my full Manchester By The Sea review this might be one of the upsets for La La Land – Gosling was fine in that but not exactly best actor nominee levels of achievement and richly deserved it is to as Affleck is astounding, although some of those allegations surrounding his conduct may prove difficult. Garfield is having a fairly spectacular career post Spiderman isn’t he? I’ve got Captain Fantastic on my priority Lovefilm list so should catch that over the next week or so, but this and perhaps screenplay will be Manchester’s only achievements…..

Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling – La La Land
Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington – Fences

Best Actress

jackie

No Amy Adams for Arrival? Damn, well, it wouldn’t be the Oscars if Meryl didn’t get nominated for something, right? I wonder if she would get a nod even if she took a year off, just..because? I’ve got nothing against her you understand, I was in appreciative awe of her putting her head about the parapet during her Golden Globes speech, but c’mon. I’ve just seen Jackie and as I’d heard Pablo Larraín has coaxed out a very different sort of performance from Portman, a punt which actually takes some time to acclimatise to during the course of the film, so I think she’ll take it as a somewhat less controversial choice than the other front runner Elle.

Isabelle Huppert – Elle
Ruth Negga – Loving
Natalie Portman – Jackie
Emma Stone – La La Land
Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins

Best Supporting Actor

nocturnal

Fantastic to see Lucas Hedges here which is probably the biggest surprise, he holds his own against far more experienced colleagues so it’s good to see him nominated. Bridges is great but maybe a little too obvious, Patel is the best I’ve seen him in Lion, and I can’t comment on Moonlight – yet. So let’s go with Shannon, because, well, he’s Michael fucking Shannon…..

Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges –  Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel – Lion
Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals

Best Supporting Actress

fences

“Seven of the 20 nominees in acting categories for 2017 Academy Awards are non-white” notes the Daily Mail, in accurate reporting accident’ tweeted Sight & Sound editor Nick James after the announcement, which made me chuckle. As much as I love Michelle Williams to be perfectly blunt she is barely in her film, sure she has one pivotal scene but apart from that little more than a few transitional moments, so I can’t in good conscience elect her as a favourite. So for now, until I see more of the nominees, I’ll go with Viola Davis as she’s always great;

Viola Davis – Fences
Naomi Harris – Moonlight
Nicole Kidman – Lion
Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea

Best Adapted Screenplay

lion2

A roll of the dice, until I see Moonlight. Arrival was quite revolutionary but again the Academy is resistant to awarding SF out of the technical categories, which leaves us with the entire arc of Hidden Fences which can be detected from the trailer – it looks worthy but not following the usual ‘triumph over adversity’ path. In a similar way so does Lion but seems to evade any clichés, so for now I’ll go with that;

Arrival
Fences
Hidden Figures
Lion
Moonlight

Best Original Screenplay

manch

No Nocturnal Animals nod? Well, that is odd given the previous form, but I can’t say I disagree. I did see the film last year but couldn’t find the appetite to craft a review, the framing structure of a film within in film is curious and could have been utilised to great effect, but the rest of the film was cluttered and quite unsure of itself. So, back to the actual nominees and I’m going to have to go with Manchester By The Sea as one of those almost consolation prizes, unless La La Land begins to look like a clean sweep on the night….

Hell or High Water
La La Land
The Lobster
Manchester by the Sea
20th Century Women

Best Animated Feature Film

moana

Not exactly my specialised area, and I’ve heard great things about all of these but lets go with Moana as a Disneyfied guess.

Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana
My Life as a Zucchini
Zootopia
The Red Turtle

Best Cinematography

silence

As always a strong field, again until I see Moonlight which I’ve heard has some ravishing moments this is difficult to call. Silence was a beautiful film if an ideologically troubling one, but I think the La La Land juggernaut will continue, especially that magic hour & crayola colour schema.

Arrival
La La Land
Lion
Moonlight
Silence

Best Documentary Feature

oj

This is a slam-dunk, having powered through the five and a half hour O.J. Simpson epic over Xmas I can vouch for its brilliance, drawing in issues and observations far in orbit of that horrendous event.

Fire at Sea
I am Not Your Negro
Life, Animated
O.J. Made in America
13th Hour

Best Documentary Short Subject

Extremis
4.1 Miles
Joe’s Violin
Watani: My Homeland
The White Helmets

Best Original Score

lala.png

Should they even bother opening the envelope? Strange to see Passengers on here, there is a beautiful piano leitmotif in Lion which is worthy of an award, and it’s a shame that Arrival missed out here;

Jackie
La La Land
Lion
Moonlight
Passengers

Best Original Song

la-la-5

As above;

“Audition” – La La Land
“Can’t Stop the Feeling” – Trolls
“City of Stars” – La La Land
“The Empty Chair” – Jim: The James Foley Story
“How Far I’ll Go” – Moana

Best Foreign Language Film

edrmann

Goddamn it. It’s always the same, isn’t it? I arrogantly assume I have kept my finger on the pulse of international cinema, following the antics of the major film festivals, and while I may not have seen everything due to distribution patterns I’m at least aware of the general population of International Cinema. Apparently not as not only have a not seen four of the five nominees, I’ve never even heard of them. Completely oblivious. Not a peep about these pictures, not through my Sight & Sound subscription, not through the scattering of film websites I visit almost daily, not through the two dozen or so weekly podcasts I am subscribed to. Just who is sending the Academy these films to see and getting them nominated? Well, of course the exception is Toni Erdmann which has been justifiably cresting the wave of breakthrough popularity and audience affection, which surely has to take this one back to Berlin.

Land of Mine
A Man Called Ove
The Salesman
Tanna
Toni Erdmann

Best Animated Short Film

Blind Vaysha
Borrowed Time
Pear Cider & Cigarettes
Pearl
Piper

Best Live Action Short Film

Ennemis Interieurs
La Femme et le TGV
Silent Nights
Sing
Timecode

Best Costume Design

jacks

I think Jackie might offer an upset and it certainly looked amazing to me, but my sartorial skills are questionable;

Allied
Fantastic Beasts
Jackie
La La Land

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

suic

Well, that’s a surprise, with Suicide Squad, one of the most maligned films of last year, getting a nomination. I’ve never heard of A Man Called Ove so lets guess with Star Trek;

A Man Called Ove
Star Trek Beyond
Suicide Squad

Best Sound Editing

human

I’m going out on a limb with Arrival as a final offering of support;

Arrival
Deepwater Horizon
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Sully

Best Sound Mixing

hack

Action and combat films usually do well in this category, so lets go with the Ridge;

Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
14 hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Best Film Editing

arrival

Crikey these all seem proficient to say the least, but again Arrival had that fractured timeline to master. Nevertheless La La will prevail;

Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Moonlight
La La Land

Best Production Design

hail

Whilst I think Arrival should take the top set SF never wins production design awards, which closes down the odds somewhat. Normally I’d go with Hail Caesar for the old-school Hollywood vibe, but I think this might be a case of the vote for everything for the same picture syndrome for those Academy members who haven’t seen all the films…

Arrival
Fantastic Beasts
Hail, Caesar!
La La Land
Passengers

Best Visual Effects

deep1

Having seen The Jungle Book recently I must admit I was very impressed, it was the best rendering of anthropomorphic animals I’ve seen on screen, and whilst it didn’t always convince the blending and rendering was exquisite. Still, I’m going for Dr. Strange as those folding hexagonal headspace scrambling was almost unique on screen, as opposed to the text book designs and execution of Rogue One.

Deepwater Horizon
Doctor Strange
The Jungle Book
Kubo and the Two Strings
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story


Get Out (2017) Trailer

Yes, I know, more trailer filler, but this has just been revealed at a midnight Sundance screening and it got punters very excited, managing that almost impossible mix of deft comedy and disturbing horror which is exceptionally rare outside of An American Werewolf In London and the Evil Dead franchise;


I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore (2017) Trailer

Interesting, timely title, and this has mostly gone down a storm at Sundance – looks good;


The Purge – Inauguration (2017)

friday‘Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning. Attempts to limit competition are treated as inimical to liberty. Tax and regulation should be minimised, public services should be privatised. The organisation of labour and collective bargaining by trade unions are portrayed as market distortions that impede the formation of a natural hierarchy of winners and losers. Inequality is recast as virtuous: a reward for utility and a generator of wealth, which trickles down to enrich everyone. Efforts to create a more equal society are both counterproductive and morally corrosive. The market ensures that everyone gets what they deserve.’ Well, ‘deserve’ being the operative word in that synopsis of the last few decades, which alongside the utter incompetence of my countries political ‘leaders’ has brought us to the events of today and the final triumph of the neoliberal ideology, one of the saddest days of my life. No, I’m not American but the inauguration of this….thing, this corrupt, sexual assault boasting, racist, disabled mocking, draft dodging, veteran insulting, tax-dodging, treasonous, lying, incompetent – remember he couldn’t even make a fucking casino, the most lucrative mechanism in human history profitable – selfish psychopaths is still beyond comprehension. It still feels like we have slipped into some alternate reality where great swathes of fellow humans have been revealed as the venal, ignorant hate bloated leeches that wouldn’t be alien to some 1980’s B movie, and thats increasingly arising in Europe as much as North America. Now, this is a film blog of course but I had to put a marker down for this day in some appropriately mediocre fashion, lots of people have been going with Chaplin, others with Ahnoldt, especially given the 2017 setting and notion of a dystopian future where a reality TV star manipulates the psyche of the masses. It’s a dark, dark day with worse to come, but you have to laugh when the real slogan of this goose-stepping, ascendant movement completely unironically utilises the same slogan as this prophetic series;

You have to laugh when entertaining but undeniable B movie schlock turns out to be the most accurate barometer of political and social developments, don’t ya? One of those high-pitched, gibbering laughing fits which gets more shrill and higher pitched before degenerating into screams……Now you may have seen the the incandescent fury generated by the alt-right – sorry, that the fucking fascists – appropriating Carpenters 1988 now prescient masterpiece for their own pathetic propaganda, for which Carpenter immediately bitch-slapped them down. Their intellectual idiocy and rhetoric is just beyond parody, but at least they seem to be falling into civil war among themselves which is a small mercy…….

Naturally, in order to embellish this grim marker of this dark day I have to go with the Kubrick in order to accompany the parade of incompetent, spectacularly unqualified and raging sycophants already toadying to the throne, if the president elect wasn’t bad enough the individuals this regime has surrounded itself with is just, simply…it just…..well, words fail me as usual. In this period of unequivocal proven man made climate change, well, if in some political movie script you appointed the CEO of fucking Exxon as the Secretary Of State you’d be laughed out of every pitch meeting in California, yet here we are, as the world slowly burns. So finally here’s a little prophetic clip of the US President calling his boss friend in the Kremlin, as we also see the resurgence of a destabilising, fiscally annihilating global nuclear arms race – so cheer up, if the climate doesn’t get us, or rather your children and grandchildren, then the lunatics will;


Miguel Ferrer RIP (1955 – 2017)

Well, as if this week wasn’t already looking grim, my favourite character in Twin Peaks just passed away. Fortunately he is in the new series so he will get some sort of tribute, but this sucks. He was also great in the rarely discussed Tony Scott picture Revenge which is also a fond, historical, under appreciated favourite of mine;


BFI Scorsese Season – Italianamerican (1974) & An American Boy (1978)

As is my idiom, I do like to post some ancillary material when indulging in a director season, so I thought it best to keep the flow running with some acclaimed non-fiction material which is often overlooked in favour of Marty’s crime epics or spiritual sojourns. The BFI, as usual are doing a comprehensive job by showing many of his documentaries on the big screen alongside the movies, but I’m not inclined to spend precious resources in catching these on the big screen when I can barely keep up with the January new releases and tackle big, iconic movies such as a certain boxing picture which I have tentatively begun assaulting. So, courtesy of the inter-webs here are a couple of his highly regarded pieces, modest little examinations of his family in the first instance and a colourful acquaintance in the second, to keep things ticking over while I catch Manchester By The Sea this week and hope to bring you the story of brutalised boxer by the weekend;

I should say that this exercise has ballooned out of all proportion as I have committed to and made great inroads into re-watching every single Scorsese movie on my HD home A/V system, which has included upgrading some films to high definition from their mediocre DVD masters, thus so far I have powered through Gangs Of New York, Cape Fear, The Age Of Innocence, Boxcar Bertha, Hugo, The Aviator, Bringing Out The Dead and The Departed – not bad for a weeks work, with more still nesting on my watch-list. Anyway, here is his interview with the rather squalid Steven Prince, star of one of the key scenes in Taxi Driver you’ll recall, and his O/D story which Tarantino lifted for that sequence in Pulp Fiction;

You might be as bemused as I was to discover that we have a recent sequel, well if you consider 2009 as ‘recent’, that you can see here…..


Toni Erdmann (2017)

erdmannFirstly, some context – German cinema can be considered a trailblazer in many respects during its long and illustrious history, as the cradle of such epoch defining talents as Fritz Lang, Murnau, and Pabst, or more recently the post war new-wave of Herzog, Fassbinder and Wenders, to name just three. When you cast your eyes over these figures and historical movements there is one function and formula which doesn’t exactly spring to mind – rib-tickling, grin inducing comedy. A little research on my part hasn’t exactly excavated a vast, untapped chasm of Teutonic titters, although to be fair Fack Ju Göhte looks like it might be worth a watch, and Goodbye Lenin made some waves during its release back in 2010. That is pretty much it as far as I can see, until a modest film was revealed at Cannes last year which has upturned the nationalistic nerve of accusing the krauts of having no sense of humour. As I’ve mentioned here before the marketing for Toni Erdmann didn’t exactly molest my funny bones, so as usual I have been ignorantly bemused by its steep ascendancy to perhaps the most acclaimed film of 2016, featuring in the ascendant of hundreds of critics, academics and film industry professionals all over the world. Still, I am humble enough to accede to my elders and betters, so when a special advance screening and post viewing Q&A sprang up in the esteemed Curzon Bloomsbury I snapped up a ticket, eager to finally see what all the fuss was about. Rather than director and screenwriter Maren Abe being frozen in the spotlight the Curzon have secured the services of Austrian actor Peter Simonischek for their promotional parade, he plays the titular character in this frankly bizarre but repeatedly amusing oddity, one of most original films I’ve seen for quite a while.

erd3When we first meet Winfried (Simonischek) we quickly process that he’s something of an eccentric of advancing years, a pithy prankster, as he imitates a disheveled unabomber clone while collecting a ticking parcel from a confused delivery man in the film’s opening scene. It is quickly ascertained that he is a part-time teacher, divorced but remaining cordial with his ex-wife, and warmly tolerated by the members of the community and his extended family whom roll their eyes in mock-exasperation at his silly jokes and foolish personas. One family fissure strikes a genuine raw nerve which can’t be concealed with well-intentioned levity, with Winfried’s uncomfortable relationship with his high-flying corporate daughter Ines (Sandra Hüller) a source of regret between the two. She is constantly on the mobile while negotiating a particularly sensitive deal on behalf of her consulting company, a Romanian outsourcing scheme which inevitably lead to redundancies that the cowardly CEO is anxious not to be publicly responsible for inflicting. After Winfried’s unexpected visit to Romania where Ines barely has any time to spend with her father he unconventionally adopts the wig-couiffered, false teeth sporting persona of Toni Erdmann, professional life-coach and possible German Ambassador, and inseminates himself into her corporate circle to the bemusement of her unsuspecting colleagues and friends. The results, as they say lead to hilarious consequences, in an embarrassment of situations which are not a million miles from the cringe-inducing chortles of The Office or Curb Your Enthusiasm…….

erd2Toni Erdmann wasn’t quite what I had in my mind when I sat down in the opulent surroundings of the Renoir Screen Numero Uno, and thankfully, having slept on it I’m quantifying that statement in a throughly complementary fashion. As expected the film begins as a rather straightforward dramerdy, the clear spine being the lukewarm, stilted relationship between an emotionally estranged father and daughter, warily circling each other and yearning for a deeper connection but unsure how to broach their shared apprehension. After establishing the initial story contours however the film pushes off into an almost Dada influenced farce, an occasionally hysterical playground with bizarrely comic interludes and incidents. Two scenes in particular are spectacular specimens of the comedic form, quite unlike anything I’ve seen at the cinema for quite a while, and judging by the raucous reaction of my fellow patrons I wasn’t the only  audience member throughly smitten with the droll absurdity. Technically the film is a straightforward affair, organic coverage captured in wandering hand-held close-ups, with a specific lack of any manipulative soundtrack or diagetic interference, letting the intrinsic comedy ooze through from the situations and reactions rather than signposting reactions through editing or punchlines. I’ve never seen either central performer before so there is no screen baggage to weigh down their performances, and they are both throughly convincing as two lost souls slowly acclimatizing to a new phase of their father / daughter relationship, and beautifully playing it straight no matter how absurd the circumstances.

erd4I am utterly baffled by some of the readings I’ve gleaned from some social media streams for this film, specifically those interpretations citing Toni Erdmann as some sort of political riposte to our recent political turmoil, an analysis which I cannot detect at all. Yes, there is some sly undercurrent of corporate satire running beneath the absurdity, an examination of the modern office culture which inflicts such anxiety and distress on its drones at the expense of genuine, warm human interactions, a reduction of all discourse to commerce if you will. Extrapolating that further to encompass wider contemporary concerns seems like a stretch, it doesn’t need any deeper analysis other than a face value appreciation of a frequently hilarious, original and highly touching if slightly overlong (160+ minutes) movie. During the Q&A Simonischek came across  as a cheery and avuncular fellow, explaining how they suffered numerous takes and were encouraged to improvise by their brilliantly precise director, during a challenging but rewarding shoot. He also explained how some of the particular strains of humour had been carefully researched – and I have to dance around some certain plot points here –  but a certain, erm…well, ‘creature’ is culled from a Romanian fable which signals the waning of winter and the coming of spring, a symbol of a rebirth and new horizons which slots neatly into some of the characters evolution and growth. This is an almost unique offer, it’s difficult to parse with any recent film in terms of intent and tone which I suspect is why it has generated such international affection, and while it wouldn’t have charmed its way into my top ten I am curious to see it again and assess how some of the nuances and performances may be reinterpreted and assessed a second time around. So much cinema, even of an international variety follows formula so it was refreshing to be blessed with a story which was largely unpredictable, apart perhaps from a final conclusion which cleaves to the usual mandate of character growth and life lessons learnt. Now, after this highly amusing aside I will go and check out what’s been happening in the news and international affairs before resuming the fetal position, and be sure to continue the whispered moaning and praying that this is all some feverish nightmare, I mean you’ve got to laugh….right?;


RIP William Peter Blatty (1928 – 2017)

The grim reaper, it seems, has started his work this year. Curiously I revised his little known picture The Ninth Configuration a few weeks ago, it’s a rather strange debate on the nature of life and death, of good and evil, just like his cultural milestone which still causes shudders and chills over forty years later;

In other news yes I’m aware of the Twin Peaks teasers, but I’m not in the business of linking to insubstantial marketing and am awaiting a full, revelatory trailer. Also, if the January blues have got you down then maybe a perusal of the greatest movie best-of-list can distract you from the freezing weather, you can begin here, and finally here is a wonderful article on Steven on the occasion of his 70th birthday…