Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Three Days, Five Films

Melbourne is going through one of it's regular summer heat waves - which sucks. For those who don't live in Australia, we have proper heat waves over here. We're talking over 35 degrees centigrade in the shade. (95 fahrenheit). Yesterday, Melbourne made 40 degrees. Bleargh.

At least Melbourne's heat waves don't last for more than a few days normally - unlike Adelaide which can have weeks of temperatures over thirty in summer. This is one of the main reasons I chose Melbourne as a home - the weather. yes, it's changeable, but at least it's normally not too hot or too humid.

Regardless, as my flat is like a sauna by day three of a heatwave, and despite overworking the airconditioning and running a fan, all I can do is get out to escape the heat. I feel sorry for the Maow Maow. He's found the coolest place in the flat in the middle of my bedroom floor. He's not doing much. I tried damping him down with a wet bandana, but he didn't like it much. Add to this indignity  with the antibiotics I'm shoving down his neck twice a day, I know that the friendship is being stretched. He's just going to have to wait a few days for the heat to break and for the temperature in the flat to go down. The tablets are thankfully clearing up his pelt and he doesn't appear to be too itchy.

Despite the air conditioner, which is fairly effective, when the mercury rises, I tend to take myself off to the cinema. The hotter it gets, the more films I see.

Five films in three days is a bit of a record for me, but being on holidays and as there's been a heap of movies on that I've wanted to see and I thought I'd miss, it's been a great opportunity to catch up on my movies.

I've been stunned, impressed and overjoyed with some of my choices - not a dud one in the group.

So here are my thoughts on these five films:

1) The Iron Lady 

Director: Phyllida Lloyd       Starring: Meryl Streep and Jim Broadbent

The reception to this film has been a bit hit and miss in the reviews, but I was pleasantly surprised. Streep will get an Oscar nod for this one, where she plays Maggie Thatcher from her middle to old age. And it's a tour de force. She is Maggie - just as Helen Mirren  completely captured the Queen with pathos, Meryl Streep takes on this tsunami of a woman completely. Jim Broadbent is divine as the long-suffering Denis.

Phyllida Lloyd is a reasonably inexperienced movie director, with her only big screen credit to date being the fabulously fun Mama Mia. However, she's very, very well known in British theatre as a peerless director of stage and opera.

It's not a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination, but I loved how they have taken the ailing, dementia-addled Maggie and told her story with a lot of compassion. That her relationship with Denis was highlighted as the rock of her life - Denis portrayed as a strong man in the background, taking on this flighty middle-class girl with ambition and spunk. The film is interspersed with historical footage of the miner's strike, the Brighton Hotel Bombings and other facets of her political career. The supporting cast has a plethora of England's finest are great and they capture the times perfectly. John Session's Edward Heath is brilliant just for the dreadful haircut alone (and it was strange to see Anthony Head (Giles from Buffy) as Geoffrey Howe). You get an appreciation for how much hair product has done for the human race in the last few years.

I walked away with a new appreciation for the woman. I've many, many English friends of my age who blame Thatcher for destroying England. This film gives her a bit of a new perspective - as a woman first, a woman of principle second. I'm also glad they treated Denis Thatcher with love and respect - something I don't think the press did for most of his life.

I left a little more tolerant of a woman once described as being "Right of Hitler."

Panda Bamboo sticks - 3.5 out of 5

2) Albert Nobbs

Director: Roderigo Garcia   Starring Glenn Close, Mia Wasikowska

This is a quietly devastating film. Thoroughly engaging, completely believable, terminally sad, it also opens up the questions of what we do for life, and love. I saw the trailer for this film and vowed to see it.

Albert Nobbs is a waiter at a Dublin Hotel, where the aristocracy of the turn of the 20th Century come to visit and play. Pauline Collins is the indomitable hotel owner, Mrs Baker. She and her staff run a reputable house. There is a bit of an Upstairs, Downstairs feel to the place as we see Albert go through a quiet life of silent desperation.

Albert is woman living the life of a man. She is also looking to start living a fuller life, saving furtively so that she can acquire a business of her own. Thing go a little pear-shaped when she if forced to share her room with a painter who comes to work on the hotel.

I'm not going to give anything away, but the way that Roderigo Garcia looks at gender, the period, and how we strive for more is poignant. The supporting cast are wonderful as well, though little stock in trade - the pretty servant who gets knocked up, the layabout, pretty boy drunk, the doctor character (a wonderfully, empathetically gruff Brendan Gleeson) do a great job. The standout for me was Janet McTeer as Hubert, who opens Albert's eyes to the bigger world.

Visually stunning, this film has a steady pace which gathers speed as Albert begins to realise that he/she will be able be released from his self-imposed prison of his own making.

Talking to my mother after seeing it, she piped up that she wanted to see it - and it's a film you can take your Mum to and both of you will enjoy it. In my case, my Mum loves anything like this - she watches anything set in a manor house over and over. I realise that the themes in this movie could have been taken far further than they were, however, the film is what it is. Rather than towing a full feminist agenda, it concentrates on the quiet, rather desperate life of the central figure.

I certainly recommend this - just for Glenn Close and Janet McTeer's performance alone. I see a few Oscar nods coming from this one too.

Panda Bamboo Sticks: 4 out of 5

3) The Ides of March

Director: George Clooney  Starring:  George Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Evan Rachel Wood, Paul Giamatti

Wow! Okay, I love political thrillers - and George Clooney does them well - just look at the superb "Good Night and Good Luck." This is a superb film. Keeps you on the edge of your seat wondering how things are going to play out right to the very end.

Some of my favorite actors take on this tale of an idealistic staffer who gets involved in dirty politics. Ryan Gosling and his thousand mile stare are perfect as the flawed, well-played player. Paul Giamatti  and Philip Seymour Hoffman (with an only slightly better haircut than the one he had in Moneyball) go head to head as campaign managers. Evan Rachel Wood is the intern in the middle of everything. Marisa Tomei is great, as a always, as a journalist who's getting to the bottom of the spin. Clooney not only directs put plays the Democratic Candidate, complete with Stalinist propaganda posters and a willingness to play the players.

I was suckered into this one until the fabulous conclusion - and I say fabulous because the film leaves you thinking. Oh, and the Julius Caesar quote title - perfect.

Okay, I'm a West Wing freak and I owe everything I know about American politics to the show. At times I felt like I was watching Sam, Josh, Toby, CJ and Donna going through their throws. But this film is more than that. Far, far more than extended West Wing episode. It's smart, it's perceptive. The best things in the film are very much left unsaid - Clooney uses the 'show, not tell' rule to perfection.

I'm really, really glad I made it to this film before it left the cinemas. Ryan Gosling Oscar nod - probably.

Panda Bamboo Sticks: 4.5 out of 5

4) Melancholia

Say the name Lars von Trier to me and I tend to block my ears and go "LALALALALALALA.'  He makes movies to slit your wrist by. Okay, maybe that's a bit rich, but he makes pretty movies which can lead you in to deep, dark depression - but he's always interesting. I refuse to see "Dancer in the Dark", point blank, just because I know the ending and execution scenes leave me dry retching. Same goes for "Dogville" - I just can't do that to myself. No point. This Dane makes films that make Hamlet look a nice light country romp.

So it was some trepidation that I took myself off to see Melancholia - knowing enough about the plot etc. and being in a good place, I thought I'd chance it. I'd heard that a lot of people walked out on it. I knew that I might find myself wanting to go home and have a good discussion with a vodka bottle. Thankfully these two possibilities didn't eventuate.

OH MY GOODNESS. This is an INCREDIBLE piece of cinema. Visually stunning in every way, great performances by the whole cast - this movie had me in it's thrall from the opening titles and the super-slow motion start.

If I was to compare it to any film I've seen recently, I'd put it in the group with Tree of Life - deep, arty and thought provoking. The jury is still out on "Tree of Life." that one as ask me one day and I shove it in the "File under Pretentious Wank", then it will be seen as a worthy film the next.

I can see why a lot of people will put Melancholia in the former category - but to me, this film is oh, so, so, so much more than von Trier, penis in hand, trying to make art.

The film, in my opinion, is a near perfect allegory of depression. A dystopic view of  Armageddon. A very, very beautiful look at dysfunctional families. A day on, I'm still processing what went on on screen for the 136 minutes.

Kirsten Dunst is incandescent as Justine, the bride. Charlotte Gainsbourg a wonder as her pragmatic, long-suffering sister. Alexander Skarsgard divine as Michael, Justine's bewildered and cuckolded groom. Charlotte Rampling gets a guernsey as the wonderfully unhinged mother (though she appears to be getting typecast after her turn in "The Eye of the Storm"). John Hurt, Kiefer Sutherland, Stellan Skarsgard (Alex's Dad), Udo Kier and Brady Corbet all have an integral part to play in this film about depression, the end of the world, forgiveness and redemption.The location, a castle in Sweden, is enough get me to see the film again. Glorious.

This isn't everybody's cup of aqua vite. Looking at the reviews, it's divided the film going population - just like Tree of Life. Is it a flawed film? Yes. Are you going to like any of the characters? Probably not. Are you going to file it under the "Pretentious Wank" category. Maybe. Are some of the goings on in the plot completely unrealistic? Of course. But this, in some ways, is a gentle Lars von Trier film. Nobody, gets executed. So the world ends - what the hey!

I found this film utterly and completely spellbinding, from the Wagnerian music, to the location, to the performances to the whole concept. Bravo.

Panda Bamboo Sticks: 5 out of 5

5) The Skin I Live In

Director: Pedro Almodovar  Starring: Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya

Pedro Almodovar - bless him, is the enfant terrible of Spanish cinema. I adore his later stuff - and this is no exception. His early stuff I'm more likely to leave, but films like Volver, Talk to Her and Bad Education are up there as some of my favorite foreign language films. He also has the ability to make Penelope Cruz look good. She acts well in his films, even if she still looks like an ostrich.

No Penelope Cruz in this one, but a hot, rather broody Antonio Banderas instead, which is enough to keep me in a cinema seat for two hours. You can smell his pungent aftershave permeating the screen. It's also set in Toledo - probably one of my favorite cities on the planet, so there is a slight bias.

Almodovar's been looking at the role of medicine in life for a while - 'Talk to Her' looked at life, care and ethics in hospitals with fresh eyes.

'The Skin I Live' in is a bit of a cautionary tale. The plot, in a nutshell - ever since his wife was burned in a car crash, Dr. Robert Ledgard, an eminent plastic surgeon, has been interested in creating a new skin with which he could have saved her. After twelve years, he manages to cultivate a skin that is a real shield against every assault. In addition to years of study and experimentation, Robert needed a further three things: no scruples, an accomplice and a human guinea pig. Scruples were never a problem. Marilia, the woman who looked after him from the day he was born, is his most faithful accomplice. And as for the human guinea pig...

This is a chilling film in many ways. Banderas is fabulous as the flawed surgeon. Elena Anaya perfect as his 'creation'. The house keeper and her son are fabulous. And the great thing about Spanish films - after half an hour you don't notice the subtitles and rely on the language for everything you need.

Certainly not Almodovar's best film - still think that honour goes to "Talk to Her", however this was a wonderful diversion - and it leaves a lot of questions in your mind.

Panda Bamboo Sticks: 4 out of 5

Okay, I'm never going to replace Margaret Pomerantz and David Stratton, and I know I love what a lot of people will call "Wanky Arthouse" films, but if there is one thing I love about heatwaves - it's justification to send myself off to the Rivoli Cinema complex to indulge in a favorite pastime.


The Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Pand,

mmm "Thatcher the Milk Snatcher" - not my favourite politician by a long long way.

I'm tempted to get the soapbox out - but I won't.

I can't honestly bring myself to watch the film no matter how good or bad it is.




Kath Lockett said...

I worked as a housekeeper for a family in Finchley in 1991 and they had a framed photo of Maggie when she visited (lady employer was a bit of a mover and shaker in her day). They were torn between feeling proud to have met her and loathing her politics.

Would love to see the movie though.