Is It Biscuit Tin-able?

Pro_HartLook, I don’t know anything about Art, but I do know what I like. And I like biscuits, especially ones that come in fancy tins. Flash bicky tins have been with us for more than a century. Often they simply depict the brand’s name or perhaps a litho’d portrait of the Royals or a random dignitary (there is more than one Winston Churchill tin out in the world). I am here to argue that the great biscuit tins come with a lid that reproduces great art. It’s a marriage baked in heaven.

NV_Biscuitfabriek 1950
Although I am very impressed with this embossed reproduction (above) of the detail from Rembrandt’s The Night Watch (1950s for NV Biscuitfabriek), I favour something more toned down like this Louis Garin tin (below) from Bicuiterie St Michel (also 1950s).

St Michel_1950s
Arnott’s Bicuits Limited has had plenty of Australia artists on its tins like Maynard Waters, Brian Baigent and Pro Hart (top of this post) especially during the 1970s and ‘80s. I believe now is the time for them to get contempo and cook up an appealing matrix of rising dough and social media. For example, how about slapping the annual Archibald prize winner on a tin?

Archibald

Even though we’re not telepathically linked, somehow, I can hear you putting the question: Do we necessarily want to see Nigel Milsom’s 2015 Archibald winning portrait of barrister Charles Waterstreet gracing the top of a special edition Assorted Creams tin, Phil? I mean it’s rather foreboding an image–it’s not exactly biscuit tin-able, is it?

Well, if there’s anything I have learnt from the BBC’s Fake or Fortune, it’s that in Art and Cultural circles, it is no rare thing for a group of people, who regard themselves as experts, to gather about a table in a room, in closed session and pronounce the authenticity, or excellence, or award-worthiness, of a cultural artifact.

So what I’m saying is this: if, in future, an Arnott’s Biscuit Tin Art Selection Committee deems any painting to be biscuit tin-able, then by the expert power invested in them by themselves, biscuit tin-able that artwork shall be.

Even if we don’t like it, Art will be the winner and we can always push down any negative feelings with a delicious mouthful of Arnott’s Monte Carlos.

Monte Carlos

Film Review: Calvary (2014)

Calvary

2014/UK-Ireland/101 minutes

Father James Lavelle is the priest of a small town in County Sligo. One day while taking confession, a man tells Lavelle of how he was raped by a priest numerous times from the age of 11. The Father’s attempts to deal with him are futile because the man isn’t looking for absolution from his sins, rather he is there to make a statement. No one cared about his plight during his childhood or since. He was ignored by the Church. Since the priest who committed the sex crimes has died, the man believes the only way to bring attention to his sufferings is by killing another priest, in particular, a good priest like Father Lavelle. He tells Lavelle he has a week to get his affairs in order. He intends to carry out the execution the next Sunday.

From this point, the story counts down until the confrontation. At first, Lavelle thinks he might know the man from his voice, but as the days pass he becomes less certain. He reports the threat to the police. He worries about what will happen and imagines how he might talk the man out his plan when they meet face to face. The audience is left to sort through the potential suspects of this future murder. We become acquainted with the townsfolk and are given a profusion of clues and red herrings. The parishioners are an unsettled group. Almost everyone has an axe to grind. The town’s atheist doctor (Aidan Gillen) delights in poking at the Father with a metaphorical stick, but none of the believers seems to care too much for the Catholic Church, either.

CALVARY is director John Michael McDonagh take on the state of contemporary Ireland. It is an impassioned film that attempts to portray the depth of disillusionment with the Catholic Church after the numerous investigations into child sexual abuse crimes by priests and nuns. The transferring of known abusers to new parishes, and the years of denials of wrongdoing, has substantially damaged the public’s trust in the formerly revered institution. In the movie, it seems all the townspeople have negative things to say to Lavelle; to them, he is the representative of an organisation that has not yet answered for its sins. Does the Church have any moral authority of any kind, anymore? This is the big question that Lavelle struggles with as Sunday approaches. McDonagh’s last feature was the critical hit, THE GUARD. It also had things to say about Ireland, but it used comedy and satire to make its points. CALVARY is different in that it’s a drama with comedic moments. It is an angrier film, that exists to deliver a stinging rebuke to the Church and its attempts to silence the victims of clerical sexual abuse of children. The other institutions of the land don’t escape McDonagh’s attentions, either.

Brendan Gleeson is powerful as Father Levelle. He plays a good man who thinks he can make a difference to the world. He has come by this idea through the hard knocks of his former life. The rest of the cast is also top notch. The excellent cinematography reveals the wild beauty of the landscape that serves as the main release from the tension of the story. Although the script loses some steam towards the end, McDonagh has crafted a serious film that packs a hefty emotional punch. (3.5/5)

This review was also published in AccessReel.com

Content Sponge #8

In which I briefly review the telly what I watched this year so far, on various platforms. In this edition: Deutschland 83, The Honourable Woman, Agent Carter, The Fades, Love, Jack Irish and Fake or Fortune.

This irregular feature Content Sponge returns to philjengkane.com after a long slumber. Blinking the sleep from its eyes to discover a new world where Malcolm Turnbull is Australian PM, iPhones are the size of mini iPads, Australia has an entrant in the Eurovision Song Contest and Donald Trump is the Republican front runner for Presidential nominee. So many changes. Disoriented, Content Sponge looks to the past, specifically back thirty-three years…

DEUTSCHLAND ’83

deutschland-83-large

This eight-part television series is the creation of a German and American couple Anna and Joerg Winger and co-produced with German and American investors. It tells the story of Martin Rauch an East German border guard in 1983. The Cold War is still being fought. In East Germany the Stasi (secret police) have a comprehensive spying program operating in West Germany. One Stasi operative, Leonora Rauch (Maria Schrader), realises her nephew Martin would be an effective choice to go under cover in West Germany and pose as the new aide-de-camp to a Major-General Edel (Ulrich Noethen). This would give them a conduit to NATO and its operations.

Jonas Nay, the young actor who plays Martin, does a terrific job as the series’ lead. In the beginning, he has some belief in his mission and wants to impress his family and his superiors. As time goes on, when he has to perform more morally questionable tasks, he begins to question what he is doing. The series veers from the comedic differences between East and West into the serious consequences of constant deception. This is the thematic counterpart to the US series THE AMERICANS. It begins brighter than that show, but becomes bleaker as it moves towards its season 1 conclusion. Some of the interiors for the Stasi HQ were shot in the actual building itself (it is now the Stasi Museum in real-life). This gives those scenes a certain visual authenticity.

I found the series compelling. I enjoyed seeing actors I didn’t know from numerous other television shows. The tone is uneven at times, but the historical details are fascinating. The series is in German with English subtitles. Oddly the German version has New Order’s Blue Monday as its main theme music. The UK/US version has the rather catchy Euro-hit Major Tom (Coming Home) by Peter Schilling. Remember him? Me neither.

THE HONOURABLE WOMAN

The Honorable woman blog

Memory and history are also at the forefront this next series. The story begins with a senseless killing many years ago in London. It is the death that shapes the worldview of Nessa Stein (Maggie Gyllenhaal) a wealthy English woman who has recently been elevated to the peerage. She is the head off her family business, a telecommunications company with an international reach. They are working on a controversial West Bank optical fibre project that involves Israelis and Palestinians. The Steins’ Anglo-Jewish heritage means they are constantly accused of betrayal and favouritism. Nessa considers her business to be integral to the Middle East Peace process. Two major events, another murder and a kidnapping throw her project and her worldview into question.

This eight-part BBC series written and directed by Hugo Blick has great ambitions that are thwarted by its overly complex plotting and a severe lack of characters one can care about. Veteran actor Stephen Rea gets to be rumpled and pathetic in the Le Carre-esque spy part of the story. Unfortunately this also involves a wonky characterisation from the usually great Janet McTeer. She play’s Rea’s scheming boss with a lot of unconvincing sex-talk sprinkled among the hip and equally unconvincing spy-lingo. Nessa Stein is a fairly terrible creation, too, moving uneasily between unpleasant A-type assertiveness, dazzling people skills and complete emotional surrender. Gyllenhaal does all of this brilliantly, nails the accent flawlessly and deservedly won a Golden Globe for her pains. The series is hard work, though, and the occasional good bit of drama did not make up for its confusing storytelling and unlikeability.

AGENT CARTER (Season 2)

Agent Carter

The diametrically opposite on the likeability scale is AGENT CARTER. The series is spun off Marvel’s Captain America movies and focuses on the character of British agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell). For two seasons, the show has run during the midseason break in Marvel’s AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. (AOS) Carter is a mostly straightforward two-fisted hero differentiated mainly by being in a woman in a man’s world. She is constantly underestimated by her enemies and her brother agents. Carter works for the S.S.R., a forerunner to S.H.I.E.L.D. and her allies include Iron Man’s dad Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) and the original Jarvis (James D’Arcy). She fights the rise of Hydra and various other post-war criminal conspiracies.

The feel of the series is very like its Captain America source material and other adventure entertainment of the 1940s. Carter could stand with The Phantom and early Batman. She uses cunning and subterfuge when necessary but is just as likely to choose a frontal attack on an enemy. In comic book terms, this story is pre-X-Men, pre-Watchmen and pre-Dark Knight. It is also set in a pre-Civil rights, pre-E.R.A., pre-Watergate world where the study of psychology is not yet a commonplace. Carter relies on her unerring sense of integrity to get her through any situation. The makers of the show have chosen the lens of old-fashioned heroism with a feminist twist and it works surprisingly well.

I note that Peggy Carter may be turning in her badge and Walther PPK. Hayley Atwell has apparently signed on to a US procedural drama called CONVICTION.

THE FADES

The fades_blog

Jumping sideways and tangentially to the 2011 six-part UK supernatural drama series THE FADES. I came across this because certain AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. fans reference it constantly because it stars AOS’s Iain De Caestecker (Leo Fitz).

It’s a basic hero’s journey for De Caestecker’s Paul character. Only he starts way behind Paul Atreides, Luke Skywalker or the Matrix’s Neo, socially speaking. By the way, the series knowingly and annoyingly name-checks other geekery in a similar fashion. It does however have a Buffy-esque sense of humour (I will stop, promise) and a surprisingly offbeat dark tone. De Castecker and Daniel Kaluuya (SKINS) are a comically co-dependant duo of geek buddies. GAME OF THRONES’ Natalie Dormer also makes an impact here.

Paul is a bed-wetting teen who flies way under the radar, but he has been having dreams about the Apocalypse. And they’re turning out to be premonitions. The vengeful dead (fades) are rising and there’s seems to be no one who can stop them. The series was penned by Jack Thorne and it won a BAFTA, but somehow couldn’t get renewed for a second season. That’s a shame, because it deserved a second bite of the cherry.

LOVE (Season 1)

Love the blog

Man, I binge-watched the hell out of this ten episode Netflix comedy series. I almost can’t tell if it was good or not. This, by the way, is how I feel about Aziz Ansari’s recent Netflix comedy series MASTER OF NONE. I certainly liked some of that, but the bingedness of my watching, simply downloading into my eyeballs like others might ingest a can of Pringles, makes me wonder if I missed certain nuances of performance and theme. Or perhaps entire plot strands. I should probably start pacing these out a little, like a mature adult might do; which is the other way to Netflix and chill.

As for the boldly named LOVE it is the creation of the ubiquitous Judd Apatow, working with husband and wife team Leslie Arfin and Paul Rust. Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) and Gus (Paul Rust) meet and feel some kind of attraction and then NOTHING happens between them for a number of episodes. We, the audience, get to know them better. They start off stereotypically enough; Gus, a put upon nice guy, Mickey a self-entitled screw up, but as episodes pass we see more of what is behind their facades. Both behave deplorably in their respective media jobs and in their friendships and when they get close enough to each other, the bullshit and game-playing is on in earnest. Both are so full of their own fears and deeply ingrained defences that they never get close to getting close. This is frustrating for anyone after a simple rom-com, but potentially fascinating for anyone who can travel with this couple on their cringe-inducing, maddening journey.

True things are observed in this series, and if you are prepared to wait, you may enjoy the exploration of these adult themes. Rust is a successful stand up whose work I didn’t know. His acting is solid enough and he goes all in when showing Gus’s dorkiness and awfulness. Gillian Jacobs is best known for her six seasons playing Britta Perry on COMMUNITY. Her talent was clear in that show and LOVE gives her the opportunity to play a more rounded character with some serious issues to overcome.  Season 2 has been ordered by Netflix.

JACK IRISH (2016 series)

Jack Irish_Blog

After three outings as telemovies for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Peter Temple’s private investigator character Jack Irish (Guy Pearce) returns in a series of six one-hour episodes. Written by Andrew Knight and Andrew Anastasios (who also wrote Russ Crowe’s THE WATER DIVINER) the series is the first not based on a Temple book. This has perturbed some of the writer’s fans. I felt the new format had a lot more breathing space for character development and was a better fit for the humour that Knight and Anastasios have considerable experience in writing.

Apart from Leonard in MEMENTO (2000), I don’t think Pearce has had a better role than the self-effacing, alcoholic PI who prefers to stay out of other people’s business right up until the moment that he has to stick his nose in. Brooke Satchwell, Marcus Graham, Sacha Horler, Shane Jacobson, Roy Billing and Aaron Pedersen are some of the new and old faces that pop up here. Claudia Karvan has a terrific role as a woman whose spiky artist persona is cover for being the privileged daughter of a judge (memorably played by New Zealand’s John Bach, great to see him back on Australian telly). Monarch of the ABC and Janet King of all she surveys, Marta Dusseldorp, also returns as Linda Hillier and has a separate storyline that takes her to the Phillippines.

Although the series loses a little puff towards its conclusion, this still seems like the better way to present the adventures of Irish.

FAKE OR FORTUNE (Season 4)

Fake or Fortune Blog

Not a drama, but a hyped up BBC reality-esque documentary series starring journalist Fiona Bruce and art historian Philip Mould. Not being a Brit I knew of these two only from The Antiques Roadshow, but here they couldn’t be further away from the dusty genteel world of Clarice Cliff knock-offs and Uncle Hugo’s reproduction Queen Anne Furniture. (They probably could be further away, but bear with me.)

In each episode, a punter brings Mouldy and Brucey a painting that is supposed to be the work of a great artist but because it is unsigned or has no paper trail (provenance) proving its origins, the artifact is worth 3 quid rather than 3 million. Fiona and Philip, whom I like to think of as the Emma Peel and John Steed of arts telly or perhaps the Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin of cultural programming, then go on a hunt across Europe (and sometimes North America) to establish the painting’s bonafides. They are aided immeasurably by another, even posher, younger, art historian Dr Bendor Grovesnor whose only television analog is from the 1970s British sci-fi series Blakes Seven. He is FAKE OR FORTUNE’s super-computer Orac. This trio of authenticators is assisted by various boffins from places like Aldi or The Tate using techniques that are way beyond me, but which I will now lazily portray as kirlian photography, gas chromatography and electronic microscopy.

By episode’s end they are either telling the painting’s owner the good news or gravely informing them that their masterpiece isn’t worth the canvas it’s painted on.
The only thing that could possibly improve this program for me is if they somehow shoehorned Grand Designs’ Kevin McCloud into an episode.

Film Review: Grimsby (2016)

13-grimsby2016/UK/82minutes

What do we expect of comedians? To make us laugh, obviously. To make us think? Sometimes. George Carlin moved from being a slick nightclub style comedian in his early days to a more anti-establishment voice. Sometimes comedians move the other way, they become more about the laughs and less about a clever take on the world. This is more or less where Sacha Baron Cohen is with his latest movie GRIMSBY.

In ALI G INDAHOUSE (2002), BORAT (2006) and BRUNO (2009) it could be said that the characters he played always had some satirical point to make. When he played Ali G and Borat on television and film, Baron Cohen chose the device of ambushing unsuspecting dupes in character.  Ali G and Borat had a limited world-view and Baron Cohen would use their apparent innocence and lack of sophistication to draw out real life interview subjects and and expose the contradictions and darkness in their point of view. This is a reality-show version of cringe comedy that some people regard as unfair because it relies on the interviewee being the patsy of a set up. (God knows what line of super-persuasive chat producers had to come up with to get those release forms signed.) Bruno, Borat and Ali G were all retired because the public became too familiar with the characters and Baron Cohen lost the element of surprise.

In GRIMSBY (also known as The Brothers Grimsby in some quarters) Baron Cohen plays Nobby Butcher, a football hooligan and father of 11. The ambush comedy is gone. This is a straight-down-the-line spy action spoof. Nobby is a poorly educated man who loves his family and football. His greatest regret is that he was separated with his younger brother Sebastian during childhood. Unbeknownst to Nobby, Sebastian has become MI6’s top spy. Sebastian is everything that Nobby isn’t; intelligent, capable, well-travelled and in top physical condition. It has been Nobby’s life quest to reunite with brother Sebastian (Mark Strong). When he eventually tracks him down, Nobby ruins a carefully planned top secret operation. Sebastian is accused of being a double agent and goes on the run. The only way he can clear his name is with the dubious help of his long-lost brother.

Director Louis Leterrier whose work includes, UNLEASHED (2005), THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008), CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010) as well as two of the Transporter films delivers some amazing action sequences here, far above the standard required of a comedy. The flash-backs to young Nobby and Sebastian’s life as orphaned children are also better done than is usual for the genre. These scenes don’t fit comfortably alongside the barrage of crass sight gags and crude sexual slapstick that make up most of the film’s laughs.

Critics have called the comedy juvenile and over-the-top and indeed there are gallons of bodily fluids spraying everywhere. I wasn’t too bothered. I seem to remember all of Baron Cohen’s other films had plenty of schoolyard smut and tastelessness. That said, there is nothing clever and satirical going on here. It’s base level, but it made me laugh. Mark Strong plays through all the indignities visited upon his character. He’s not funny but he’s game for anything. The rest of the international cast is largely wasted, including Isla Fisher, Ian McShane, Rebel Wilson, Penelope Cruz, Gabourey SibideRicky Tomlinson and Johnny Vegas.

GRIMSBY is a non-demanding piece of entertainment. Those who expect Baron Cohen to say more comedically will be disappointed. Those who think genitalia props and inappropriate insertions are hilarious, will find this laugh-out-loud funny. (2.5/5)

This review also appeared in AccessReel.com.

Film Review: Lawrence and Holloman

lawrence-holloman

2013/Canada/1hr35m

Holloman is a loner who works in a department store. He looks after an ailing mother, but otherwise has no-one in his life. He has become despondent about the state of his existence and is having suicidal fantasies. He has a gun and is about to use it on himself when he is diverted from his mission by the appearance of Lawrence.

Lawrence is a fellow worker at the store. He is a salesman who has won employee of the month twice.  As he explains to Holloman, their boss says Lawrence has a future.  There is something compelling and annoying about the man. Where Holloman is pessimistic to a fault, Lawrence is a complete optimist. Everything has a silver lining. There is no bad luck. Even when things are down, one will eventually be able to look up. Holloman has met his spiritual opposite, his reverse doppelganger and all of a sudden, he has a reason to live.  There is something about this confident character that Holloman needs to understand. He has a great job, the faith of his employers, a beautiful girlfriend, other women he is having affairs with and not a care in the world. As he says, “I’m happy. I’m joyous.”

The salesman takes Holloman under his wing. He freely gives out advice, which proves to be a patchwork of half-baked thoughts and malapropisms. The more time Holloman spends with Lawrence, the more affronted he is by Lawrence’s idea that people have the lives they do because of destiny. And then one day, Lawrence’s luck begins to turn. And so does Holloman’s.

LAWRENCE AND HOLLOMAN is a Canadian film based on the play of the same name by award-winning playwright Morris Panych. Director Matthew Kowalchuk and his co-writer Daniel Arnold (who also plays Holloman) have adapted what was a two-hander into a fully-fledged feature. Despite the Odd Couple feel of the set up, Panych’s characters do not have a Neil Simonesque relationship. Holloman is envious of everything that Lawrence has. He thinks that if he had the same luck and advantages, then his life would have been a happier one. At a certain level, that he is barely aware of, he covets Lawrence’s essential self. This is where the comedy gets dark and twisted.

Ben Cotton does a fine job playing Lawrence. Daniel Arnold is also good in the more difficult sad-sack role of Holloman. Neither actor is particularly well known outside of North America. Perhaps the best-known member of the cast is Katharine Isabelle who played Ginger in the GINGER SNAPS trilogy. Here she plays Zooey, an old high school friend of Lawrence’s.

This is a black comedy that veers into absurdism as it progresses. The story asks us to consider why some lives seem fortunate and others are cursed. A certain amount of punishment is meted out in order to make that point, so audience members who like their laughs light and easy might find this movie tough going. If however, you find humor in the darkness and like a misanthropic take on humanity, then you will appreciate the pains taken by Kowlachuk and company to get us to laugh at this deeply flawed duo.

LAWRENCE AND HOLLWMAN runs for 95 minutes. I rated it 2.5/5

 

This review can also be found at AccessReel.com. It was originally posted on 7th July 2014.

The Science of Silkening Our Language

Focused senior life science professional pipetting solution into the pettri dish.  Lens focus on the red droplets on the glass.

If you’re a Generation X-er like myself, you may remember the above headline as a parody of the slogan of a shampoo called Silkience. The Science of Silkening Your Hair was the promise with every bottle. I guess the name itself was a portmanteau word that shoved silk together with science in an unholy humentipeding of the two commonly used dictionary terms. The sharp-eyed amongst you will recognisehumentipede as a portmanteau neologism recently invented by me in the previous sentence. And yes, I have sewn together the word human and centipede and thus blatantly ripped off the rather repellent concept invented by Dutch filmmaker Tom Six for his series of Human Centipede movies.

I come neither to praise Tom Six nor mention his work any further, I am here to discuss words and the writing of same.

The science of silkening one’s hair sounds good. It is supposed to bring on thoughts of dedicated lab technicians testing myriad emulsions in different quantities on dry, normal and greasy strands of hair. Like Thomas Edison experimenting with 1600 materials to find the perfect lightbulb filament, the dedicated women and men of the Silkience Institut de Cheveux no doubt worked tirelessly to create the perfect shampoo and conditioner. And who’s to say in the months leading up to the Silkience launch in April 1979, that isn’t exactly what happened behind the scenes at the Gillette company?

The reason I am name-checking Silkience is that the word rubs me the wrong way. It’s taken me thirty-five years to say it, but there it is!  It annoys me as much as the terms advertorial, infotainment or cosmeceutical. These humentipedazzled words are the invention of those who think the language needs more sizzle. And that’s because the people who most enjoy pormanteau neologisms work in advertising where selling sizzle is what they do. There’s a bit of sleight of hand involved in the term advertorial for example. It’s advertising in the form of an editorial. The form gives the advertisement the authority that an editorial has theoretically, although it could be argued that it has, in fact leached editorials of some of their legitimacy. Infotainment. Information and entertainment. Actually, it’s neither. No one in the civilised world has ever sat back and stated, “Well, I was thoroughly infotained!”

I am suggesting, in an English teacherly way, that our language needs extra sizzle like Bernard Tomic could do with more confidence. It’s got sizzle to burn, baby! Many pormanteau words are faddish and therefore date poorly ( just like: “insert topical celebrity reference here”.) Having said that, I will go to war Snake Plissken style with any mofo who tries to remove “brunch” either from the dictionary or the menu.

Film Review: Under The Skin

under-the-skin-jpg

(2013) UK/USA, 108 minutes

DIRECTOR:Jonathan Glazer | CAST:Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams | RATING: 4/5

“Alien disguised as attractive young woman seeks unattached young Scottish men. Object: to harvest their life essence. Mostly based in Glasgow, but prepared to travel. Has own windowless van.”

This is more or less the story of Jonathan Glazer’s new feature UNDER THE SKIN. Obviously there is no fourth-wall breaking personal ad. tipping off the male population of Glasgow. UNDER THE SKIN is not a gender-switched remake of the musical comedy EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY (1988), as much as I want such a thing to exist.  It is instead a science fiction art film that drip-feeds its story to the audience. It is adapted from a novel of the same name by Dutch-Australian-Scottish writer Michel Faber.

Scarlett Johansson plays the unnamed extraterrestrial. We, the audience are almost always with her as she travels through the countryside, suburbs and city. None of these environments is particularly inviting. There’s a harshness about this world. The Alien is ever watchful as she scans the streets for her next victim. She stops and asks for directions and establishes whether these men are expected anywhere, if they have a family or partner who might miss them, then she offers them a ride in her van. The suggestion is clear. There could be sex in the offing. Many men get into the van. They are never seen again.

This unsettling tale is made even more so by the abstractness of the storytelling. The Alien is mostly an observer who speaks hardly at all. There is nothing explained in dialogue, everything the audience learns is through observation. This is a tale of how rather than why. Beneath the surface story, there are ideas about sex, loneliness, gender, communication and family. It is ridiculously easy for the Alien to find victims. There are many men who are unmoored from ties to others. She needs to find men whose disappearance won’t raise the alarm immediately.

Director Glazer usually works in commercials and music videos. We have him to thanks for Jamiroquai’s 1996 Virtual Insanity clip. He also directed the critically acclaimed features SEXY BEAST (2000) and BIRTH (2004). He has brought that experience to bear in all departments of his new film. He has given us beautifully composed images skillfully blended with top-notch visual effects. The cinematography often presents scenes in wide shots that force us to observe events unfolding, rather than relating to the emotions of the participants. We are detached from getting too emotionally involved. Remarkably, the close-up footage shot in the van, involves mostly untrained actors. Glazer placed a dozen small cameras in the cabin and had Johansonn drive around Glasgow genuinely attempting to pick up men. So the casual responses, chit-chat and flirting are all the more fascinating for not being scripted. This element of the movie plays almost like a documentary or perhaps like reality TV (Snog, Marry, Harvested?).

Johansonn puts in a solid performance as the Alien. She has not been this interesting onscreen for some time. Earlier in her career, when she appeared in movies like GHOST WORLD (2001), LOST IN TRANSLATION (2003) and GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING (2003) she seemed to be mixing it up between the indie and the mainstream. Lately her roles have been mainly in bland big budget pictures. Sure, she’s good as Romanoff in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but this new film reminds us that she is an actor capable of more.

UNDER THE SKIN is repetitious in parts and does not reveal itself fully at any point. It’s a movie for those who want to put together the story themselves and then dwell on what they have seen afterwards. It’s a slow-burn with some lovely visuals, disturbing moments and excellent music by Mica Levi.

This review originally appeared in AccessReel.com on 6th July 2014

Film Review: The Rover

The Rover

(2014) Australia, 102 minutes

DIRECTOR:David Michod | CAST:Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson | RATING: 3/5

THE ROVER has a jaunty sounding title. The idea of roving or wandering the countryside has always had a romanticism about it. The dream of leaving the confines of a city and living off the land is the stuff of legend and folk music. It’s also how 7/10 grey nomads plan to spend their retirement. However there are no happy wanderers in this movie. Director David Michod’s latest feature THE ROVER is set in the near future of Australia, ten years after an economic disaster called The Collapse. It plays out entirely in the desert. Jauntiness is in short supply as are food, ammunition and petrol.

Guy Pearce is a loner called Eric. His car is stolen by a gang of robbers whose heist has gone wrong. Two of their number, brothers Henry (McNairy) and Rey (Pattinson) are injured and separated. Eric has a burning determination to get his vehicle back and eventually Rey becomes his hostage. Eric and Rey travel through the desert looking for Henry and the rest of the gang.

For the most part, THE ROVER is a slow-burning, two-hander road movie. Eric is a broken man whom we suspect was angry to begin with. The theft of his car gives focus to his fury. He intimidates and manipulates Rey who is out of his element. Rey and his brother are originally from a southern part of the USA. They travelled to Australia to work in the mines. Rey is a simple young man who seems lost without his brother telling him what to do. Although Eric is clearly a threat to Henry, Rey attempts to ingratiate himself with the aggreived older man. This is his go-to survival method.

Eric and Rey are two damaged souls reluctantly journeying across a hot and dusty landscape. Along the way, they meet the local inhabitants; people who are the remnants of communities, struggling to survive. The rule of law has vanished. The police are gone and now a military force attempts to keep order in heavily weaponised armoured vehicles. Despite this, people mostly have to protect themselves. Whatever is left of the government is far away in Sydney. Early on, Eric enters an opium den. The owner (Gillian Jones) makes her living prostituting teenage boys. Nothing is being produced in this land, so people who aren’t digging rocks out of the ground have little to trade except sex and drugs.

Writer/director Michod and his co-writer Joel Edgerton have created a universe of unremitting bleakness. The post-apocalypse portrayed by the Mad Max films is a world of hope compared with Australia after The Collapse. There is no joy here. Loss and anger are the only surviving emotions in this land. In as much as the movie fits into the apocalypse genre, it also takes its place with narratives about foreigners in the inhospitable Australian interior. It sits comfortably alongside novelist Patrick White’sVoss or John Hillcoat’s 2005 film THE PROPOSITION.

Whether this film will be a hit with fans of Michod’s ANIMAL KINGDOM (2010) remains to be seen. It is an intense experience with two excellent central performances. Pattinson is very good indeed as Rey and this could represent a game-changer for his career. Pearce’s murderous Eric exceeds his best work in LA CONFIDENTIAL (1997) and MEMENTO (2000). However audiences may feel the story itself not particularly accessible. I found it needlessly enigmatic at times. While I appreciate being allowed to connect-the-dots to understand the world of the film, I thought too much was left unsaid about the consequences of The Collapse.

Originally published in AccessReel.com on 30th June 2014

Film Review: Yves Saint Laurent

Yves-Saint-Laurent(2014) France, 105 minutes

DIRECTOR:Jalil Lespert | CAST:Pierre Niney, Guillaume Gallienne, Charlotte Le Bon | RATING: 3/5

French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent died in 2008 aged 71. Now, six years later, YSL fans and cinephiles are blessed with not one, but two films celebrating the man Wikipedia describes as one of the greatest names in fashion history. First cab off the rank is YVES SAINT LAURENT directed by Jalil Lespert. The second film, more tersely entitled SAINT LAURENT is due for release in October and is directed by Bertrand Bonello. There is still time for the Bonello version to gain an eye-catching OLIVER!-style exclamation mark to make it stand out from its rival.

Lespert’s movie begins with Saint Laurent (Niney) already something of a star in the French fashion world. We see him visiting his parents in their home in Oran, French Algeria. Saint Laurent, whom I will refer to henceforth as “Yves” for brevity, is from a wealthy family and is adored by his mother.  He has a quiet and deferential manner and had at one time considered the seminary in order to become a priest. Now, despite his young age, he is working for Christian Dior. His designs are well regarded by his mentor.

Yves’s story is to some extent narrated by his one-time life partner Pierre Bergé (Gallienne). The real Bergé was co-founder of the Yves Saint Laurent Couture House and Yves’s long time business partner. He has given Lespert’s production his blessing by opening up the YSL archives for reference purposes and loaning of couture items. This gives the movie a certain level of historical authority that will please fans of YSL fashion. Fictional Bergé’s memories give some shape and a timeline to the movie which otherwise has the usual pitfalls of the biopic–pacing and episodicity (which sounds like a made up word but isn’t).

Saint Laurent was a shortening of the family’s surname.  When Yves started using this more compact handle he was branding himself in the modern sense of that term. The film shows Yves’s identity shifting bit-by-bit, year-by-year. He is dealing with the public perceptions of being an icon and his own perceptions of what it means to be an artist with a rock star profile. Sometimes his changes were conscious, sometimes less so. Yves is named Dior’s head designer in 1957 at the age of 21 after the death of Christian Dior.  From this point onward, the pressure on Yves is enormous. He becomes a news story. His designs are scrutinised and commented upon as part of a national conversation. What he does is part of the culture and has a status akin to art. This way of seeing fashion is not the norm amongst we Anglophonic types, I believe we tend to view it as trivial and disposable. Committing to this film requires one to appreciate Yves Saint Laurent’s status as a French national treasure and a creative genius.

Many of the movie’s livelier scenes occur in the first half. Another truism of the biopic is that the road on the way up tends to be more engaging than the plateau of success or even the road down. Young Yves is capable of fixing a troublesome design with a few deft pencil lines. It’s the equivalent of movie Glen Miller writing Moonlight Serenade. Geniuses do what they do. Yves is less brilliant at living his life outside the atelier. He is mentally and emotionally fragile and relies heavily on his lover Bergé. He is by his side as Yves struggles to create his own fashion house. The story moves forward. These scenes of Yves engaged in his work and amazing the world is the pulse of the picture. If you buy into it, then Lespert has recreated the dazzling ambience of early 1960s French couture. Fashion was an international business even then, before it became enmeshed with celebrity and excess in the 1970s.

By the time the movie is in its jet-set-me-generation-sex-drug-and-more-sex phase, then it becomes a little less engaging. As Bergé observes, Yves is no longer the seminarian of his younger days. He becomes distracted by his celebrity and all the trappings of success. For those who crave portrayals of indulgence and moral laxity in the spotlight of the media, there is much to enjoy here. There are also moments when things get a little risible. The groundbreaking 1971 Liberation collection is presented in a short sequence reminiscent of the high-tone sex scene in EYES WIDE SHUT (1999). Remember your password – fidelio .

The performances of the leads are excellent. Niney’s Yves is an enigmatic, delicate character who is self-involved to a fault but who has moments of clarity and self-knowledge. Gallienne anchors the film, much as the Bergé character anchors Yves. His is a solid presence and he presents a fully rounded character. Bergé is is not always admirable, but his love for Yves is where he is at his best. Canadian actress Charlotte Le Bon plays model Victoire Doutreleau. She is Yves’s first muse. Their relationship was reported to have a “platonic perfection”.  The film makes her the quasi third side to a triangle with Yves and Bergé. Le Bon who has been a model herself, does a lovely job playing a woman who misunderstands power and suffers as a result.

This review is also posted at AccessReel.com

Film Review: Frank

 

Frank-Movie(2014) UK-Ireland, 95 minutes

DIRECTOR:Lenny Abrahamson | CAST:Michael Fassbender, Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Scoot McNairy | RATING: 3/5

How much you enjoy the new movie FRANK will depend on how you feel about Indie movies, Indie music, ironic humour and stories about emotionally immature man-boys. Domhnall Gleeson plays Jon, a young Englishman with a dead-end job who lives with his parents. His mind is frequently stuck in a fervent internal monolog because his outer life is desperate and friendless. The music he writes and plays in his room is his only means of self-expression. The music scene is his connection to the world. It’sthe single living artery in a bloodless existence. Which is why he keeps an eye out for any new band passing through the small, unnamed seaside town where he lives.

When the unpronounceable band, Soronprfbs, appears, he is excited. They seem to have an impressively underground reputation. They are the very definition of an act whose music you never heard of. Their electronically infused art-rock is deeply self-indulgent, but what sets them apart from any similar outfit is their lead singer Frank. Over his street clothes, he wears a large, almost spherical, fibreglass head with cartoony features sculpted into it. Before his voice hits the mic, it is audible via a speaker built into the cranial shell. Frank sings and speaks to the world through the head. He wears the alienating contraption 24/7. No one has ever seen his real face.

Through a series of coincidences, Jon is asked to replace the band’s keyboardist. Immediately, he finds himself plunged into the dark emotional funk that permeates this tense collection of misfit players. None of them appear to have functioning people skills. They are a gang of self-involved dreamers lead by a man who is possibly living his life as performance art. Jon has trouble bonding with these damaged folk. Whether this is his lack or theirs is difficult to say.

Jon and the band travel to Ireland (Wicklow) to record an album in a ramshackle facility that consists of a run-down caravan, office and Bavarian-style chalets. He has no clear idea of what he should do, so he begins taking video footage of rehearsals and tweeting about their progress. YouTube and Twitter become an outlet for his sense of bewilderment. It’s also an opportunity to present some good gags about social media. We are privy to Jon tweets and the replies from Soronprfbs fans, haters and trolls.

The process of recording is exhausting thanks to Frank’s perfectionism. As Jon floats through his new circumstances, you sense he is looking for transformation. He has never been cool or valued in any way. He is seeking a kind of epiphany. Frank with his enigmatic world-view, not to mention his frozen, continually surprised expression, seems like a potential guru or mentor. He’s a man with a big empty head, who won’t judge others.

The first half of FRANK is littered with the stereotypes of life on the road. The second–stronger–half offers some answers to the enigma of a lead singer hidden in plain sight. As we learn more of Frank, the deadpan comedy recedes and we are given greater insight into the fragile personalities of the band members. Michael Fassbender is excellent in the title role. He let it be known he wanted the part and he does great things with it, despite having his voice and eyes obscured. Scoot McNairy (currently in David Michod’s Australian film THE ROVER) also makes a strong impression as the manager Don. Maggie Gyllenhaal is Clara, the aggressive theremin player who thinks she is the only one who truly understands Frank. Domhnall Gleeson does a solid job with the problematic lead role. His is the most relatable character and provides us with our way into the insular world of Soronprfbs, but Jon is struggling with his own demons. He is half-conscious at best and therefore something of an unreliable narrator.

Director Lenny Abrahamson has made his biggest film to date with this UK-Irish co-production. The film’s co-writers, playwright Peter Straughn and journalist Jon Ronson wrote their screenplay based on Ronson’s own experiences playing in a band led by a man in a papier-mâché head. In the 1980’s, the late Chris Sievey created the persona of Frank Sidebottom, an aspiring pop singer from Timperly, Manchester. Sievey’s Frank was comedic, whereas the movie’s Frank is a serious musician who hails from Kansas. The design of the movie head is very similar to the one Sievey wore. Ronson and Straughn have given their Frank some of the qualities of outsider musicians like Captain Beefheart and Daniel Johnston. In this way, their screenplay is something of a love letter to outsider music. Soronprfbs aren’t looking for mainstream success and Jon doesn’t understand why not.

FRANK is a slow starter and a little hard to crack into at first, however it has an entertainingly dry wit and is a poignant look at the sort of world that sensitive people build to protect themselves.

This review is also posted on AccessReel.com