Monthly Archives: November 2017

  • Florida Project Sean Baker (USA 2017)

    Florida Project Sean
    Baker (USA 2017) Willem Defoe; Brooklynn
    Prince; Bria Vinaite

    Viewed: Tyneside
    Cinema Newcastle 13 Nov 2017; ticket: £9.75

    ticket to Disneyland

    Seeing Florida Project made me think about director Sean Baker’s previous movie Tangerine. Tangerine was an intermix of setting script and character, that pulled together architecture gender sexuality and character strips of chaotic lives, crafted into a strong humorous script.

    But the film works primarily because of the central roles of its main characters who represent the pact that the film makes with truth. The contribution of Kitana Kiki Rodriguez (Sin-dee) and Mya Taylor (Alexandra) is pivotal to the movie. Tangerine is a about a seeing of the world through the filter of their obliquely referenced socio-sexual filters. Through the mediation of their characterisations the viewer glimpses and enters a different but parallel LA world. A world of the side walk, of the street. Their presence, their sash-assed poise and immediacy drove the film. Everything in Tangerine originated out of the honesty they brought to the film from their own lives.

    Of course in Baker’s scenario the creative choice to film with iPhones, the settings and locations, and his script were all clever and inspired. But these were all lesser factors in a filmic equation dominated by presence of Sin-dee and Alexandra.

    Florida Project, Baker’s follow on movie is a a betrayal of all the attributes that made Tangerine a singularly effective filmic statement.

    Baker’s Florida project, lacking in honesty of performance, reveals the poverty of Baker’s ideas. Florida Project reduces its characters to the status of two dimensional figures, in particular the child subjects. Moonee, the main child character is simply an object for the camera, a fixation about which Baker tries to organise his material. He seems not to have understood that if the child is to be an affective medium, then the viewer has to be able, along some dimension, to enter into or experience life through the eyes of the child. There has to be a seeing by the viewer of the situation of the child.

    This idea of enabling a ‘seeing’ seems not to have occurred to Baker or to have been beyond him. Baker goes for the simple solution of exploiting the child image. He pumps the child image hard for those externalities of expression that confirm its childness. The script and filming are simply crude renditions of Moonee’s exploits, none of which create moments for the viewer to see something that she sees. Moonie is cutified but but not deepened, we know nothing more about her at the end of the movie than at the beginning – just like Mickey Mouse, she is a given. Instead Baker offers us Moonee’s faciality; her face shot in a variety of different poses poises gesticulations and situations. Sometimes she is right in your face (as when she eats ). Mostly she is just Disnified: she eats ice cream, she’s supplied with one liners, she is sketched as indomitable in spirit, perspicacious and little wild at times. But nothing too far out of the Disney range because ultimately whatever she does, even if it’s bad (but of course only unintentionally bad therefore excusable), it is only her face that counts in the final verdict of the cinema court of judgement. Her face as an object for our gaze. Her face as image.

    The film has some of the attributes of Tangerine. A sharp eye for settings, the Project itself, the Magic Castle Motel and the Disney themed zone of Florida. But Baker puts nothing that is truthful into this setting. The film looked as if the original script was based on a sort of Robert Altman type ensemble idea, interweaving the entangled chaotic strips of life of different Project characters into a single theme. But for some reason, perhaps weakness of script and sub-plot, or loss of confidence in the acting itself, this type of idea didn’t work out.

    Baker’s movie lacking coherence of character or plot, degenerates into a series of TV sketches, a series of non sequiturs in which we see: a Honeymoon couple, a paedophile incident, a bare tits by the pool incident, a flamingos in the motel incident etc., which seem designed to give some screen time to a marooned Willem Defoe to earn his pay check. Lacking a focus for the camera the face of Moonee ends up by default as the hapless saviour of the day.

    In the final sequence the film moves from exploitative objectification into dishonesty. Child welfare officials take steps to remove Moonee from the custody of Halley, but Baker at this point in the script decides to obscure the reasons for their intervention. It is unclear what Hallay has been doing; has she been working as a prostitute? Some of the overheard dialogue suggests this, but we are left in the dark as the reasons for the sudden intervention are glossed over. All that Baker’s script and scenario can offer up to the audience is spectacle not understanding. The spectacle of Moonee’s flight from the Welfare officers. An externality not a seeing. Baker’s non admittance of Moonie ‘seeing’ what is happening, take the film into the realm of evasive dishonesty. For his finale Baker decides that his safe option is to handle Moonee as if she actually never had any real experience of her mother. As if for Moonie her mother had no real psychic existence. This refusal to take responsibility for the psychic world of the film, is the dishonesty which finally defines the movie.

    Florida Project shot at the portals of the Disney Empire, reads like Baker’s calling card to the great empire of entertainment. Adrin Neatrour

  • The Killing of a Sacred Deer Yorgos Lanthimos (Uk/Eire/Usa 2017)

    The Killing of a Sacred Deer Yorgos
    Lanthimos (Uk/Eire/Usa 2017) Colin
    Farrell; Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan

    viewed Tyneside Cinema 8th Nov 2017; ticket:

    check your watch, it’s myth time.

    Lanthimos’ movie ‘the Killing of a Sacred Deer’ (KSD) is a black comedy which Lanthimos guides with uncompromising intent conforming his film to the strictures of myth. The protagonist, heart surgeon Steven Murphy, can no more avoid evade or circumvent destiny than could Oedipus or Iphigenia. The forms adopted by myth are relentless engines of design that comprise those devices that lead to the preordained outcome: those that are marked to die, do so die, not by law but by force of logic. Lanthimos holds his sacred deer to logic.

    Lanthimos’ script and scenario locate his film in the psychic heart (sic) of America: the hospital; the suburbs, generic settings that characterise the experience of being in America.

    The film opens with a long durational shot, the huge close up of a heart undergoing open surgery. Initially this shot of Lanthimos seemed to be gratuitous, focusing our attention of the establishment of Steven, the heart surgeon. But as KSD progresses the shot works through the material as a significant allegorical pointer. That he who would save the heart of another has lost his own heart, that issues of the heart both actual and emotional are the core of the film which takes as its subjects those who have lost their heart, who have traded their feelings for a series out outer gestures. The main settings, the hospital and the suburbs, are understood as emptied spaces, vessels evacuated of meaning where the living perform the motions of being alive, but are absent from life itself. They water the plants, walk the dog, eat dinner, they live not as desire, but as mechanical rites.

    Lanthimos’ camera films the main settings the medical and suburban zones as dis-connected from the human characteristics that should define them. The institutional shots of the hospital record the flat nature of the interfaces and surfaces: the long corridors, the consulting rooms, the patient rooms. One overhead shot onto the huge hospital escalators works as a condensation the hospital image: the industrialisation of the sick body. In the domestic location of the Murphy’s upper middle class family home the furnishings, the house design all seem selected not so much for use but rather as statements how the Murphy’s want to see themselves. And as Steven Murphy whirls about the suburban living room of his nice house, shooting randomly with a shotgun at his blindfolded and bound wife and two children, although no attention is specifically drawn to the expensive buttoned Chesterfield on which Ana is bagged and trussed, its quiet expression of money provide an ironic counterplay to the frantic comic scene being played out.

    The core of the film is the eruption of myth into life. Myth as the dynamic that makes the heart pulse with life. Jung’s idea of myth as a form, a pre-existent mode that takes complete possession of a man or woman, defining appropriating situations so as to guide and mould their outcome. Once a mythic form castes its shadow across man, the ending is predestined there is no avoidance of a particular fate. Myth as an archetypal force that shapes destiny has its counterpart in scientific theories such as Darwin’s natural selection, where outcomes, the plumage of a peacock, determine the stages of its development.

    That myth is a psychic reality, that nothing can happen without a pre-existing form (Jung) lies the heart of Lanthimos’ perception. It is the truth engine that drives KSD. And the compelling effect of his film is that he overlays the implacable logic of the playing out a sacrificial myth over the inconsequentiality of the life lived by his central characters. The Murphy’s live in the bubble of the American consumerist society, a land in which everything can be fixed, where there are no consequences. The outplaying of KSD is that this suburban dream life transposes and without anyone noticing is subsumed into a mythical form, in which everything has consequences and nothing can be fixed or averted. Steven will not be taking Bobby for piano lessons. Stephen will have to shoot Bobby. Lanthimos films and structures KSD in a neo-Brechtian vein of realisation. The shots are naturalistic but also have a didactic quality. Visually the shots of Bobby and Kim dragging their bodies across the floor like huge slugs are logical extensions of their situation. But as mythical images they have a didactic purpose, and also confirm that KSD, like many of von Trier’s movies, is a black social comedy, not a horror film.

    The acting, as with Lanthimos’ other films is finely threaded into the skein of the movie. Colin Farrell takes on the patina of an ancient tribal king, all beard and deliberation, underplaying to deeper effect. The close up’s of all the players of which there are many, all have a distinctive quality of affect images which deepen the connection of the viewer to the unfolding events. Two in particular, a shot of Ana shadowed by a tree, which seems to suggest a gallows shot, and the big close-up of Kim riding pillion on Martin’s bike. Her face is set in a classic comic book True Romance expression of the girl who has found her first wonderful boyfriend. The girl who in this moment has had all her teenage fantasies fullfilled. Yet we know that this boy is the Angel of Death. And the Angel of Death himself, Barry Keoghan plays out as if he comes from the deep subterranean world of the Pythian oracle.

    The West with its intransigent individualistic ethos, with its belief in self determination, is highly antagonistic to the proposition that people might be assimilated by mythic form. But perhaps in a social culture where collectivities and communities are disintegrating we become more vulnerable to being subsumed by mythic forms. Community and collectivity imply shared aspects of destiny. The lone individual is unhinged from the psychic anchor of the shared life, and as needs must have to forge their own fate. But without cultural resources it is perhaps radically isolated individuals who are most vulnerable to being assimilated into the a pre-existing form of myth. In particular those myths that speak of frustration fear and anger at not being able to control destiny. Myth such as the Herod myth with its massacre of the Innocents. Perhaps gun men, such as Steven Paddock the Las Vegas mass murderer, kill precisely because they are vulnerable to myth that give psychic reality to violence. Thus vulnerable they assimilate and act out forms such as Herod as a means of giving direction to a bereft life. Submission to the force of myth gives meaning and purpose to life when it becomes unbearably inconsequential. adrin neatrour

  • The Shining Stanley Kubrick (USA 1980)

    The Shining
    Stanley Kubrick (USA 1980) Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall

    Viewed Cineworld Newcastle 31 11 2017; ticket £4.50

    all jack and no work makes a dull play boy

    I have to say I don’t worship at the shrine of Stanley K the great movie director. Strangelove is a ranking movie, but seeing The Shining confirmed my impression that he is fundamentally a stodgy movie wrangler. Over–rated by most contemporaries but exposed by time and tide.

    Actually on release the Shining attracted mixed reviews and later pulled in a confirmed following. What immediately struck me about Kubrick’s film was how derivative it was. Kubrick seems to have watched Roeg’s Don’t Look Back with some interest and some of its key images and concepts are very similar. Recurring images of the twin girls in The Shining recall Roeg’s use of flash back and flash forewards to signify precognition. The couple situation in Don’t Look back is replicated by Kubrick as is the use of the colour red. The difference is that whereas Roeg is deft supple and inventive in his depictions, Kubrick is hammy, overstated and clumsy the film buckled in with unnecessary clutter such as what seem to be punched in superfluous surtitles telling us the day of the week. As if it made any difference; or anyone cared.

    After the film I imagined a telephone talk between Stanley and Jack. In the which Stanley butters up Jack by saying to him: Hi Jack you know all those great faces you make in the mirror when you shave?…Well you can use them in my new movie if you want the part. Jack loves it. Which is to say the acting is so bad it’s good. You get all Jack’s silly faces and then Shelley Duvall, who most of the time looks like she has drifted on set thinking she’s in an Altman movie, also gets to make her faces.

    The script doesn’t help matters for the characters. It is arch, ponderous, underlined dialogue, in particular Jack’s. In this much it matches the shooting scenario which structures the film graphically about slow tracking shots deliberately contrived to suggest a slow overwhelming of the characters by the forces of fate, the ex machina design of the Shining that moves to the inexorable logic that all those who are marked down to die, so do die. Only these slow tracking shots, with the admitted exception of Danny’s pedal car, are too invariant in employment and in effect slow the film down to their own ponderous pace.

    The plot becomes a desperate effort at temporal attenuation and extension, as if the original story was too slight and needed padding out. For instance the series of scenes set in the hotel Gold Room add nothing to the film except another setting in which Jack can act out in a period setting and Joe Turkel gets to do his barman cameo.

    The one sequence that had cinematic value was Wendy’s discovery of Jack’s writing. Those reams of paper repeating with endless typographic variations the old adage: all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

    This one coup doesn’t stop The Shining from being a rather dull movie. Nor are the tasty wallpaper designs and carpets enough the save the day. Adrin Neatrour