Monthly Archives: February 2014

  • Her Spike Jonze (USA 2013)

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    Her Spike Jonze (USA 2013) Joaquin
    Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johanson

    viewed: Empire Cinema Newcastle upon
    Tyne; 18 Feb 2014; ticket: £4.00

    Loony toons

    As I watched Spike Jonze’s ‘Her’ my
    question was: what was it selling?

    Initially it looked like advert for the
    ideology of personal development wrapped up in a Guardian Angel type
    fable, the role of the disembodied presence being appropriated by an
    Operating System called Samantha.

    Spike Jonze’s (writer and director)
    scenario posits a world in vague fuzzy future peopled by characters
    borrowed from a Bill Viola photo installation of the mid naughties;
    the ‘Her’ characters file past us on the way from one place to
    another their faces and comportment defined by a sort of sedated
    slo-mo contentment their voices resonating with anodyne honesty and

    For reasons know only to himself,
    Theodore Twombly, Jonze’s male protagonist is named for the American
    abstract painter, Cy Twombly who died in 2011. Perhaps Jonze owns
    work by Cy who is a lyrical and even romantic painter. Perhaps Jonze
    intended the use of the Twombly name as some sort of gesture or
    homage. Cy Twombly certainly as a painter developed and built on his
    work during his long career; though whether his later work is
    preferred to the earlier, or vice versa, is a matter of taste.
    Unlike Spike Jonze, Cy Twombly would not have confused development
    with the changes brought about by ageing and experience.

    The self development ‘sell’ hawked by
    Jonze amounts to no more than rehashed Californian self help mantras.
    One of these mantras intones that relationships when they fail, and
    perhaps even when they don’t, constitute a kind of disease that needs
    a fix. There is a current of contemporary developmental psychology
    thought that sees relationships as problematic from the point of view
    of ‘individual growth’. The theory is that in relationships
    dominances develop leading the co-respondents to sabotage each others
    potential, each trying to suppress or undermine or exploit the other.
    In a culture that adopts individualism as its key value the belief
    is that the operant function of a relationship is promote ‘the
    potential’ of the self. The individual is more important than any
    grouping: dyadic triadic or collective.

    And everyone has ‘potential’.

    Relationships can make ‘real’ change
    in individuals impossible. It is no surprise when Alan Watts, one of
    the original ‘gurus’ of the California alternative personal growth
    trail puts in a voiced appearance.
    only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it move with
    it and join the dance.” Alan Watts) Watts was certainly one of the
    thinkers most influential in promoting the ideology of perpetual
    personal change and increasing acceleration, that Jonze is selling in
    ‘Her’. In as much as the object of the questioning and programmes,
    such as they are, is to make the individual feel ‘good’ about
    themselves, the movement quickly becomes an ideology of narcissism.

    the extent that this is a film about talking about relationships,
    ‘Her’ targets a female audience. Talk in the form of dialogue covers
    the film wall to wall: (in the same way that mindless destructive
    action wall to walls in the ‘boys’ movies) it is the stuff of soap
    opera, soap opera talk. Spike Jonze’s dialogue is like retreadings
    from Friends, Desperate Housewives etc. The critical point is the
    vacuum within which all the talk-talk happens. Soap operas are
    located in parallel universes, designed to resemble real life, but
    have no such connection. ‘Her’ takes place in such a parallel world.
    A sort of fuzzily defined future where Computer Operating Systems
    possess Artificial Intelligence, and the characters work in soft
    communication industries: Theodore works for a company that writes
    personal letters for people, implying intimate communication skills
    have died.

    dialogue has the surface look of being about something real, but
    lacks the context that means that it can signify anything actual.
    Context is everything in relation to dialogue. Where dialogue is
    detached from contexts that give shape and depth to meaning, then
    what is spoke in the situations contrived by the script, is
    disconnected from grounds about which we might care or understand.
    Simply put without context situations are meaningless, without
    consequence. And all the emotive cross referencing self questioning
    and self agonising that Jonze inserts into the ‘Her’ dialogue between
    his protagonists is spurious. ‘Her’ context and setting are vaporific
    and lack significance. The dialogue signifies nothing more than an
    exaggerated swollen sense of self importance.

    is about selling narcissism wrapped up in the myth of personal
    development and change.

    it’s all wrapped up.

    is a prime example of the inflated ambition of contemporary film
    making. Woody Allen once used to know how to make concise funny
    Romcoms. Interestingly most were set in NYC which gave them some
    kind of context, as did Woody’s jewishness. And Allen knew how to
    deliver a film in 90 minutes. Jonze takes over two hours to deliver
    ‘Her’ and his film is tortuously slow lacking in basic filmic
    tensions and laboriously tedious in coming to its conclusion. During
    the screening sometime in the middle of the movie, the dialogue was
    punctuated by loud snores coming from some one asleep in the stalls.
    That about sums it up as there’s lot of slo-mo in Her,
    much of the film passes by in Spike Jonze’s comatose state of film
    making, accompanied by a load of dreary tinkly music attributed to
    Samantha the Operating System.

    And lastly a question to which I don’t
    know the answer. Samantha the disembodied OS, at the end of the
    script passes, with her new chum Alan, onto another higher plane,
    another dimension of existence, leaving Theodore behind. She has
    migrated in accordance with her destiny.

    OS/OT = operating system = operating
    Thetan. Is this an allegorical movie driven by the belief system of

    Adrin Neatrour

  • Lift to the Scaffold (L’Ascenseur pour l’Echafaux) Louis Malle (1958 Fr)

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    Lift to the Scaffold (L’Ascenseur pour
    l’Echafaux) Louis Malle (1958 Fr) Jeanne Moreau; Maurice Ronet

    Viewed: NFT London; 7 Feb 2014;
    ticket: £7.50

    Change in the Rules of the Game.

    Nineteen years on from Renoir’s The
    Rules of the Game, after a world war the German Occupation and the
    infiltration of Coca-Cola culture, Louis Malle makes The Lift to the
    Scaffold. At it’s simplest his film states simply and objectively
    that the rules of the game have changed: it’s a new game, with
    shifting ambiguous rules.

    Lift to the Scaffold is a shock wave
    that jolts us out of the cosy world of traditional social hierarchies
    and the striated conventions that define them. It shakes us out of
    class bound notions of ownership and personal relations into the post
    war world of the 1950’s which is already being shaped by
    contemporary modernism. A world always on edge where money defines
    identity; a world with fluid boundaries defined by personal desire
    accelerations separations and object fetishism. A world that at
    that time of the film’s production was in embryo but projected by
    Malle into its maturity.

    And like Renoir’s movie, Lift to the
    Scaffold is also a satire on social relations.

    Renoir’s satire in keeping with the
    times is a gentle probing. He puts into relief the strange,
    sometimes hypocritical amusing contradictions that result from the
    different behaviour codes followed by two classes of people living in
    close proximity as masters and servants. Malle’s satire is more
    savage and pitiless. Renoir’s protagonists, in particular the ruling
    class, are able to control events by containing them within their
    world. Malle’s protagonists have no such power and the satire
    derives from the manner in which actions by the protagonists veer
    completely out of their control resulting in exaggerated unintended
    effects that overwhelm them. Effects enlarged and given greater
    visibility by the cool detached acting style that gesturally
    characterises the playing out of the scenario.

    This difference between the two films
    is highlighted by the killings that are important but not necessarily
    defining events in the two scripts. In Rules of the Game the murder
    is a crime passionel, motivated by jealousy: an old fashioned sort of
    provocation. It is viewed in the film as an embarrassment rather
    than a crime, a mistake that can be justified contained and explained
    away. The killing in ‘Rules’ is done from a distance without the
    killer and victim being in close contact: Andre will have had no
    idea who shot him. Contrast with Malle’s script. Here the two
    murders are close up and personal, with eye contact between the two
    parties. As if Malle understands that within the new social matrix
    sexual and murderous relations will be two unpredictable sides of the
    same coin: power. Malle’s killings are in complete opposition to the
    bungled events of ‘Rules’: political assassination (perhaps mediated
    by passion) and kicks. In Lift to the Scaffold the killings are acts
    of individuated will. And both murders satirically spin out of
    control of the perpetrators exposing them to the capricious forces of
    fate and satiric irony.

    Renoir’s script is devised using the
    classical unities of time and place: events unfold at a leisurely
    pace building up to the climax. In Malle’s script the lack of
    unities gives brilliant defining form to the movie. The protagonists
    although fatefully entangled are physically separated in time and
    space. Two of the main characters Florence and Julien, never meet
    face to face. Their unseen actions effect each other from a
    distance. Just as today the wild interplay of separated individuals
    on social networking sites can set into motion accelerated forces
    moulding possibility into certainty, so the actions of Malle’s
    protagonists just as certainly accelerate them into the precipitation
    of the events that eventually consume them.

    Of course Malle works with new social
    types: arms dealers, disaffected rebellious kids, veterans with a
    grudge and sets them against a new emerging milieu of incessant
    motion and transience: highways, motels, modernist office blocks, the
    city streets (Moreau’s endless mythic walk through night time
    Paris)or any place whatever. Malle locates his characters in a
    world not only in relation to their social strata, but more in
    relation to objects (or absence of objects as in the interrogation
    scene). Objects burrow into the course of the action, not just the
    cars, which are caressed and admired like a lover, but pencil
    sharpeners, cameras, card filing systems, revolvers. Louis Malle
    directs out attention to object fetishism and the world of Vuitton,
    BMW, Apple etc waits in the wings.

    In filming Lift the the Scaffold Malle
    used his camera in a way that builds on the expressive ideas of
    Rossellini de Sica Visconti and other Europeans. The Camera as
    directed by these film makers doesn’t only work to create affect
    perception or movement; it is not a slave to story or the manipulated
    affects of emotion. It might do some of these things but its
    principle function to enable the audience to see, to be invested as a
    seer. The audience is not asked to invest in fake emotional
    symbolism. The cars the guns the bars the highways the clothes the
    office blocks can all be read as signs, not so much part of the
    narrative but signifiers connecting the film to the world we live in.

    Before ‘Lift’ Malle had worked with
    Bresson on ‘A man escaped’ ( Un condamne a mort s’ est echappe;
    1956) . And one of Bresson’s formal concerns carries over into this
    film, his determination of a specific type of acting style needed to
    make films that were about seeing. The role of the actor is to
    reveal something to the audience. This cannot be achieved by the
    actor flooding out the audience’s emotional channels, overwhelming
    them by manipulations. It is achieved by the actor building a certain
    type of relation to their role which is not a becoming. The actor’s
    task is to show, in one way or another, how their character is a
    construct in a particular situation. The scenario the script and the
    structure of a film are an apparatus which allows the actor to take
    up varying positions in relation to the material allowing the viewer
    the spac to be a key interpretor of the material.

    Adrin Neatrour

  • Out Of The Furnace – Scott Cooper (2013 Usa)

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    Out of the Furnace – Scott Cooper
    (2013 USA) Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson

    Viewed: 4 Feb 2014 ; Empire Cinema
    Newcastle upon Tyne; Ticket: £3.95

    Disneyland invert

    The opening sequence of Cooper’s Out of
    the Furnace takes place in a drive in movie and introduces us to
    Woody Harrelson’s character Harlan. Harlan gets annoyed at something
    or other (much of the detail in the film is elusively blurred). In
    response to his stirred up emotions, he rams a hot dog (“Goddam
    food makes me sick!”) down the throat of his lady consort, before
    beating to a pulp the gentleman who has protested too much. Woody’s
    visceral reaction to whatever it was that upset his guts is so
    extreme its statement of excess becomes funny. It announces that
    ‘Out of the Furnace’ is going to lead us deep into the Hillbilly
    swamplands of parody; an opening preemptive clip that’s bourn out in
    the movie’s development

    Cooper’s film expresses America as a
    kind of inverted Disneyland.

    And in this inverted Disneyland Woody
    Harrelson plays the part of a demonic Jiminy Cricket. The voice of
    the anti-conscience. Perhaps it is the creation of this dark Gothic
    archetype that explains the allure of the film to its audience.
    Harlan as the internalised voice that psychically legitimises the
    violence of the enraged Id. In infantalised cultures defined by an
    imperative for immediate gratification (and celebrated in the adverts
    that precede the movie) frustration is intolerable. The urgency of
    desire legitimises violence towards anything or anyone who is
    perceived as a barrier to desire. As Harlan says when he first
    meets and gives Rodney the look: “I got a problem with everyone”.

    Harrelson’s performance as an
    internalised psychopath comprises the film’s core. Even when not up
    on screen like a shadow he’s still present. Hard eyes (hardening of
    the muscles around the eyes is a trick Harrelson does very well) with
    lips and skin stretched face, he exudes an implacable necessary
    desire for doing only what he wants to do. Harlan’s psychopathic
    counter conscience is offset with Russell and Rodney, the ‘good’
    brothers, in a scripting device that splits off multiple
    personalities into discrete characters. The rustbelt Pennsylvanian
    setting of the film, photographed as a beautifully contrived
    dilapidation, is no more than a picaresque back drop against which to
    set the play out of the internalised personality forces at play in
    American culture: Destruction and Accommodations.

    The limitation of Cooper’s Out of the
    Furnace (Furnace – presumably a metaphor of America, or a play on
    Griffith’s intertitle line in Intolerance: Out of the Cradle
    Endlessly Rocking?) is that from his narrative he is able to produce
    no more than a parody of the American Gothic genre.

    The dialogue lurches from cliché to
    cliché comprising one liners we’ve heard before in some other movie.
    The scripting elements: the damaged war vet, the bare knuckle
    fighting, dying old father, all tread well worn narrative paths
    without deviating from the familiar. The scripting device that
    exploits the idea the Mountain Men reflects the ultimate parody of
    distancing. It spatially removes the schizoid psychopathic cultural
    forces, destruction and accommodation, from close-up (Zimmerman’s
    slaying of Martin – Florida 2012: Dunn’s slaying of Davis – Florida
    2913. Both these killings appear to have been triggered by the
    infantile rage of the killer when their will was opposed by young
    blacks. Both killers took legal refuge in Florida’s Stand Your
    Ground Statute.) to faraway. The Mountain Men become distant
    phantoms removed from day to day life. ( ‘Some of them never bin down
    from those hills’). Out of the Furnaces’s Mountain Men are caste as
    sort of Zombie creatures, removed from mainstream psychic conditions,
    who prosper in their own middens. Of course this device of the
    ‘other’ (Hillbillies, Mountain Men, Swamp Men) has been prodigiously
    over exploited by Hollywood from Boorman’s Deliverance and a host of
    movies since. Cooper again brings nothing new to the idea, only
    replication and repetition.

    The final sequence of film abrogates
    any moral claims Cooper might make for his movie. Folded into the
    film is a subplot with a racial dimension. In one of the opening
    scenes in the movie Russell has a black girl friend. During the
    stretch he serves for drunken driving, she leaves him for the town’s
    black police chief. Although apparently in love with Russell, she
    choses black middle class respectability over white trash life style.
    The sexual competition between the two men is suggested but muted in
    the script. The image projected by Out of the Furnace is one of a
    matured interrace relations in which racist white attitudes have been
    completely eroded by liberal progressive states of mind. The problem
    is that this liberal optimism is countervailed by the film’s core
    proposition of the schizoid character of the white American. And in
    the penultimate scene, where Russell is chasing and gunning down
    Harlan, the black cop in pursuit orders Russell to put down his gun
    and not shoot. Russell disobeys and kills Harlan. This resolution
    is dishonest and points to the difficulties white film makers have
    with race. The filmmakers lose their nerve and the plot. The only
    moral outcome for the plot was for the black cop to have killed
    Russell and Harlan to have escaped. The reality of the American
    Psyche is suppressed rage, which in the film is represented by
    Harrelson’s Harlan. This demented schizo force is the one that
    eludes escapes and elides with the good, and the logic is that it
    should escape. Every slock horror film script writer and director
    knows this and intuitively understands the logic, even in parody,
    that this is what has to be. Cooper for whatever reason doesn’t get
    Adrin Neatrour

  • American Hustle David O Russell (Usa 2013)

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    American Hustle David O
    Russell (USA 2013) Christian Bale; Amy Adams; Bradley Cooper.

    Viewed Empire Cinema Newcastle upon Tyne 28 Jan 2014

    Hanging in/out

    After two hours plus in the cinema I
    found it difficult to understand what Russell’s American Hustle was
    about except style and mood. It’s a relaxed laid back type movie
    personified in Bale and Adams who comprise the performing axis, and
    the excuse for the plot to crank through its laborious machinations.

    Set in the 1970’s, it is based
    loosely (very loosely I suspect) on a conman and con woman entrapped
    by the FBI and whose skills are used to expose high level political
    corruption in New Jersey and Washington. But all
    the plot shenanigans are played out in an inconsequential manner that
    became progressively perfunctory. The script initially lends the two
    protagonists voice overs giving some insight into Irving and Sydney’s
    states of mind. This device is soon abandoned leaving the audience
    to gaze at the surface of the movie: the costumes and haircuts, the
    music and the square dance of the personal relationships that pivot
    around Irving’s wife and girlfriend.

    American Hustle is little more than a
    bland exercise in style. It is laboriously scripted with cliche’d
    one liners borrowed from a previous jaunts into the Con-land genre
    such as the Sting and the Grifters. The dialogue represents a
    stereotyped cod American philosophy of survival captured all those
    years ago by W C Fields: “ Never give a sucker an even break.”
    How long can they go on recycling these gash lines?
    American Hustle is almost completely
    lacking in on screen tension unless you count the extreme décolletage
    of the outfits worn by Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence. Bursting out
    of the costumes, their tits threaten to pop out completely at any
    time. But the scenarists decide not to do a take on this particular
    gag line, and the tape or whatever, does its job. And, in the final
    scenes in which the plot has bestowed upon all the players smiling
    faces and happy MacDonald family hour, the ladies mamories are
    appropriately and symbolically nicely tucked up inside their bras.
    The tension is over and so is the film.
    American Hustle: tit’s haircuts
    costumes and 70’s music all the way down the line. Everything on
    the surface. Judging by its face American Hustle is an exercise in
    borrowed style from a bygone epoch, the usual Hollywood retro refuge
    when the material has nothing much else going for it. A surface of
    contrasting haircuts and coiffure, frocks and flairs and whenever the
    script or haircuts or costumes start to flag, Russell fades up some
    70’s grooves David Bowie, Donna Summer Elton John to keep the
    audience interested. American Hustle a sales pitch for a 70’s
    select CD.

    In a filmic sense American Hustle is a
    dead dog, a tired stylised exercise of genre Hollywood output. But
    there is one particular thing of note in the scenario and that is the
    psychic make up of the main characters. They replicate in their
    identities an increasingly opperant feature of Western identity: the
    schizo ID. Each of American Hustle’s main characters plays out a
    schizo personality; no one is whom they seem to be. Irving is and
    Sydney are professional cons whose presentation of self is at the
    same time both a fabrication and a deeper assertion of their real
    selves. And the FBI agent and Roslyn also move into variant schizo
    identities of the people they start out as representing. American
    Hustle’s main characters are all schizos and symbolise the forces
    that are at work in a culture where leisure has replaced work and
    status as the loci of identity.

    Embedded in the core of the film’s
    characters is the idea of duality of identity. As the characters
    move between different strata and social networks they shift identity
    to accord with their needs and purposes. ID is changed: just like
    changing a frock. We live in the land of the quick change schizo
    artist. But of course this ID schizo shift in the movie replicates
    what’s become the default option in the West. Increasingly
    individuals operate across a number of discrete domaines such as work
    leisure and in particular on-line worlds. In step with this de facto
    separation there’s a tendency to create and adopt variant ID’s to
    interact with each network of people. This schizo tenancy in
    fronting contemporary identities can be slight or radical, but
    overwhelming forces are at work driving the process. Schizo
    identity claims have become part of the deep game playing that is
    used sometimes to effect successful manipulation, but that often ends
    up as a sort of compulsion to control all the parameters relating to
    the presentation of self. And American Hustle on its own somewhat
    anodyne terms certainly uses this schizo feature of contemporary life
    as a playing out factor of the film.

    Adrin Neatrour