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SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK directed by Charlie Kaufman (USA, 2008)

This is a movie about life and dreams but mainly it’s about death.

We all have dreams, both big and small. Some of them are realized, most are not.

What gives us the impetus to work through our personal bucket lists is the transience of existence and the knowledge that someday we will die, as will everyone we know.

Theatre director Coden Cotard has a big dream. He wants to stage a play about everything: birth, dating, family and death. Particularly the last of these since, as he puts it bluntly yet accurately, “we are all hurtling towards death, but here we are for the moment, alive”.

Cotard wants his production to stand as his legacy and demands that there must be no compromises. It should tell the brutal truth, warts and all – no limits, no filters. He prepares post it notes for each participant, a single fact that the actors must build upon to create a character. Quickly you get the impression that the concept is so vast that it is unworkable. View full article »

"Are you talking to me?"

Say cheese!

MARK KOZELEK LIVE AT THE BRONSON CLUB, RAVENNA, ITALY – 5th April 2014

There’s a quiet menace about Mark Kozelek. His songs reveal he’s a sensitive guy but his highly personal, story songs never stray into sentimentalism.

The lyrics are full of the humdrum details from his life at home or on the road yet are delivered with such intensity that they seem positively revelatory.

He sings of being unable to shake his melancholy nature, a condition that I imagine is exacerbated by touring on his own and having time to brood in lonely hotel rooms.

On stage during this two-hour solo performance he’s not ice cold but not warm either. There’s no charm offensive. He seems pissed off that the audience don’t talk to him but doesn’t do much to meet us half way. He doesn’t even know what city he’s playing in so you get the impression that part of him doesn’t give a damn who’s listening and why.

He wonders why there is so much graffiti in Rome but nobody dares venture an opinion as to why Italians are so into street art. In the US, Kozelek says, kids have better things to do; they’re too busy mugging and stabbing people. This is a topic he also touches on in song form in Richard Ramirez Died Of Natural Causes.

Having a few rows of seating and playing under dimmed lighting efficiently communicates the fact that you take pictures or videos at your own peril. And amazingly, no-one does. I can’t remember the last show I went to when there was so little chatter and so few pulling out smart phones. “You are a nice, respectful audience”, Kozelek acknowledges near the end and he was not wrong. View full article »

AMERICAN HUSTLE directed by David O. Russell (USA, 2013)

Following on his superb Silver Linings Playback, David O.Russell makes use of some of the same actors for this highly enjoyable yarn inspired by a FBI operation that went pear-shaped in the late 1970s; hence the pre-credits caption: “Some of this actually happened”.

The sting of a sting of a sting tale left me floundering to follow all the twists and turns of the plot so it’s probably a movie that benefits from a second viewing (I’m only glad I didn’t see it dubbed into Italian!).

Having trimmed down and worked out for The Fighter, Christian Bale has flabbed up for his role as Irving Rosenfield and is all but unrecognisable. With his dodgy hair piece and very 70s fashion sense, he looks like he’s adopted Frank Booth’s smart man disguise from David Lynch’s Blue Velvet.

As a slick con artist, his partner in crime is the seductive Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) who pretends to be an aristocratic English woman Lady Edith Greensly because this sucks in more victims – desperate men in search of loans. View full article »

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK directed by David O.Russell (USA, 2012)

After the sobering experience of watching Indonesian death squad leaders giving tips on how to kill communists in The Act Of Killing, I needed some light relief.

How about a nice Rom-Com?

I was cognizant of the fact that many films in this genre are simply not funny and most are plain dumb. Silver Linings Playbook, liberally adapted from a novel by Matthew Quick, is a welcome exception to this rule. It not only has a heart and soul but has a brain too.

The movie boasts a top class double act in the form of Bradley Cooper as Pat and Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany. Both have a history of mental instability and possess bags of energy but poor social skills – “I don’t have a filter when I talk” says Pat, who suffers from bipolar disorder.

Tiffany, a self-proclaimed “ex-slut” is convinced that “humanity is just nasty and there’s no silver lining”. Pat, whose motto is ‘excelsior’, believes that if you get in shape and stay positive, the breaks will come. View full article »

THE ACT OF KILLING co-directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn and an anonymous third person (Indonesia, 2012)

"War crimes are defined by the winners" - Adi Zulkadry (Indonesian death squad leader)

akillingA conventional documentary about the Indonesian death squads of 1965-6 would probably have used archive news footage to show the genocide and gone on to explain its impact on the families of survivors. I doubt that such an approach would have had the same impact and shock value as The Act of Killing.

For Joshua Oppenheimer and crew (many working anonymously) adopted an altogether riskier, and more controversial approach whereby the perspective is switched from the victims to perpetrators.

It affords the murderers the luxury of reenacting in cinematic terms the murderous roles they played. These self-proclaimed ‘gangsters’ and warped freedom fighters were inspired by American movies so were more than happy to turn their real life horror show into a film.

Not surprisingly, giving a voice to such monsters has been attacked in some quarters. The Christian Science Monitor and critic Nick Fraser condemn the way these cold-blooded killers can glory in their bloody actions as though they were something to be proud of.

Killers acting as victims -  Adi Zulkardy and Anwar Congo

Killers acting as victims – Adi Zulkardy and Anwar Congo

However ,the majority of critics rightly recognise the film’s achievement. The documentary may have missed out on Oscars glory but it won the BAFTA and The Guardian named it as the best film of 2013 in all categories.

Mark Kermode, writing in The Observer, described the bizarre blend of musical, western and crime genres as being “insanely surreal and distressingly domestic”.

I confess that the purpose of the dancing-girls gyrating in front of large scale model of a fish was lost on me but the other sequences are terrifyingly unambiguous. The dismembering of a teddy bear to symbolise the slaughter of a baby in front of its mother illustrates how the killers’ barbarity knew no bounds. View full article »

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