Archive for the ‘Film Reviews’ Category

Milking Mayfair: Daphne Guinness at SHOWstudio

Monday, February 18th, 2013

Daphne Guinness milking video

Nowhere is the possibility of milking as self-annihilation more evident than when it involves a beautiful woman with flawless styling. Daphne Guinness remarks later that ‘self-annihilation is a prerequisite to growth’. The milking of a model is the fashion equivalent to Pete Townshend smashing his guitar. Here, Guinness performs a wipe-out gesture of her own.

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Milking began as an in-joke among young male Newcastle University students, a little light relief during exam time. Young people took bottles full of litres of milk and emptied them on their heads, for no discernible purpose other than that, for a time, it seemed like the thing to do. Milking quickly caught on through YouTube, generating tens of thousands of views, and spread to other British cities and towns, including Edinburgh, Oxford and Cirencester. People milked in trees and from a second floor window, soaking the man below and his cereal. Participants competed in choosing the funniest, most unexpected locations for their milkings, just as others had done with the phenomenon of ‘planking’.

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Planking involved lying stiff as a board in a surprising spot, and became the quintessential Internet meme. Because of a rush to outdo other ‘plankers’ in choosing an outlandish site, a variety of injuries and one fatality resulted. So far milking has proven harmless, unless you consider the fate of the milk itself.

In fact, milking was displaced by the invention of ‘porting’ at Durham University, in which male students pour a bottle of port over their white dress shirts (which are thus ruined) and dark suit pants. Although port is much more expensive than milk, no one can construct much of an argument regarding the importance of its preservation. It is hard to argue that those who waste milk are improving the world, but some might see a virtue in those who waste alcohol. These competing memes (from competing universities) can be seen on YouTube, which critic Wayne Koestenbaum refers to as a kind of ‘shame-kiln’ in his book Humiliation (2011),[1]

Porting

Director Nick Knight’s suggestion began as a joke on the geographic spread of the milking craze, from its origin in Newcastle to Bruton Place, Mayfair, one of the most expensive neighborhoods in London. Multimedia artist and model Daphne Guinness hadn’t heard of milking before, but quickly latched onto the idea and saw that it was the best way to celebrate a pending move. Location was on Knight’s mind.

In fact, on the next day (1 February 2013), SHOWstudio itself moved to a new site on Motcomb Street, Belgravia. Milking Mayfair had the adults paying tribute to a meme developed by youth, and restaging it in a formidably expensive, grown-up context.

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Elizabeth Who? by Erin O’Brien

Monday, September 6th, 2010

The Queen
Directed by Stephen Frears
Starring Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen, James Cromwell
2006

Her Majesty Helen Mirren aboard The Queen's Flight

Helen Mirren aboard The Queen’s Flight to London

The writer Martin Amis, whose father, the great comic novelist Kingsley Amis, was awarded a knighthood for services to literature, found the movie The Queen most unrealistic. “I’ve met the Queen, for about ten seconds, and she’s completely unreflecting. She’s a heifer. Don’t you think?” He said this in 2007 to the sitting Prime Minister and fictional co-star of the movie, Tony Blair. Blair, naturally, did not concede this point, but he did not argue with it strenuously either.* In recent days, as his memoirs appear, Blair has post-modernly taken up the plot-line of The Queen to talk about his duty to “save the monarchy from itself”.

The Queen is regularly depicted as a woman with very few interests and little intellectual curiosity. In fact, she puts in hours of every day reading and analyzing opaque government documents. Then the real fun begins with the investitures, the opening of government buildings and, depending on her location, the walkabouts. It is regularly said of senior members of the Royal Family that they are parasites who do nothing, which is the most bankrupt of all criticism of them.

If you renamed the Queen “Ambassador Plenipotentiary from the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth of Nations”, she would be hailed immediately as a workaholic with spookily flawless judgment, who puts the diplomatic world to shame as she labours well into her 80s (with her victimized husband and family). I recently saw Elizabeth parade around in the scorching heat in Toronto as I wilted just waiting for her, while the Prime Minister and Governor General of Canada, only a short distance away, might as well have been a pair of dog-catchers for all their competing charisma. (I repeatedly forgot the Canadian figures while I was actually looking at them, such was the Queen’s rock star reception.)** This, during an era in which successive middle-aged Presidents of the United States cannot be lured into the Oval Office to do their jobs within two years of taking office.

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Angie Transcendent

Monday, August 30th, 2010

Salt

Directed by Philip Noyce
Starring Angelina Jolie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Liev Schreiber
2010

Salt film poster (2010)

It is regrettable that some people call Angelina Jolie “Angie”. I find this overly-familiar, even from her father (who is only occasionally permitted contact) and her partner, Brad Pitt, who appears to see an all-American normalcy in her that the rest of the world does not. Angie is about as much an Angie as I am a Cressida or Sheherazade. Angelina is “Angelina”, but she is really only “Angelina Jolie”, since “Angelina” is incomplete and also over-familiar, though less intrusive. “Jolie” is too weak, too accessible and too kind to describe this unusual woman. “Angelina” may have to do here though, since her full name is so exhaustingly long. Prolific, even. It is embarrassing, however. I feel like an unhinged gossip columnist.

Is Angelina Jolie the most beautiful woman on earth? She may well be. She is certainly among them. Anyone who sees, for example, the runway sequence in Gia (1998) in which she weaves her way druggedly along in a Botticelli-inspired bridal gown, sees something very much like an angel. The vulgarity of her over-determined features and titanic lips simply makes her beauty universal, over-written enough that it can be perceived by the entire world: Angelina’s beauty plays in Europe, Latin America and India, for example, for different reasons. There is something for everyone in her magnificent face. She looks like one of the great beauties of the 1950s on steroids, like a next-generation take on the human race.

Runway Scene in Gia (1998)

Though one or two tats more and she will be unfilmable. Anyone see the absurdity of a film called Original Sin (2001) set in a 19th century Cuban plantation in which she was tatted up like a gang-banger? The bathtub scene washed away the foundation covering her tattoos, which made her a rather unusual historical damsel who resembled a death-row inmate.

One thing to know about Angelina is that she only occasionally uses stuntmen. For “Salt”, she learned Krav Maga (a crunchy Israeli martial art involving the breaking of a bunch of bones) and Muay Thai. (Krav Maga naturally won out in the achy-breaky fight sequences.) She takes lots of lessons for each film in things like knife-throwing and ball-kicking. Recreationally, she learned how to fly a plane, and her reasons for doing so are fascinating. Little Maddox, her first child, she discovered, enjoyed watching planes take off and land at an airstrip. It wasn’t enough to bring the child and sit next to him in the grass, watching. Angelina had to be the pilot the child observed.  Brad Pitt has since taken lessons as well, which I’m sure brings his family no end of pleasure to contemplate. It would not really surprise me if Angelina eventually dispensed with the plane, and simply just took flight. Angelina is always coming into Being.

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Signs and Wonders

Monday, August 16th, 2010

No Country for Old Men
Directed by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem
2007

I defy you to keep easy track of the kills made by Anton Chigurh. His first, with perfect symbolism for a novel and film about law and order and crime and chaos, is of a silly young deputy in a jail where Chigurh is handcuffed. He gets the cuffs around the young man’s neck, and then it is just the work of holding on as the deputy thrashes and thrashes. Chigurh’s eyes are bulging, and the deputy’s death rattle provokes an obscene swoon from the killer. This may be the film’s only vulgarity.

It put me in mind of a documentary I saw about tarantulas. One couple, known honest to god as Tucson Blondes, rolled around and kicked with all sixteen legs at each other and the ground when a gentleman came calling and the lady wasn’t in the mood. The male didn’t make it; the female was largely uninjured. I bet the wild action painting the Coen Brothers organized with black shoe polish and legs trying to get a purchase on the ground matched the markings scratched into the dirt by those frantic spiders.

Action painting, No Country-style

The West Texas land gives of itself almost nothing, but things are perched on it like rocks and soil hostile to life: dirt more like it. It does a good impression of the middle of nowhere. There is a kind of beauty for those passing through. Staying means death. In his introduction, hunter Llewellyn Moss (played by Josh Brolin) takes aim at an antelope and misses. And there we have it. A hunter: but will he prove good enough? G.W. had the iconography of the cowboy more or less right, as did Reagan, but you see immediately that the real thing is as hard, spare and grim as Cormac McCarthy’s writing. The men’s faces are masculine, hard, with unnecessarily thick moustaches. Their bodies are sinewy, thinned, realistic, without decorative musculature or even decorative asses. They are masters at tracking. Every man in the film can read the ground, and does routinely like we read a clock. It is all nature, no culture, in the sense that the nature/culture divide intends.

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The Disarming Tony Blair by Erin O’Brien

Friday, August 6th, 2010

The Ghost Writer

Directed by Roman Polanski

Starring Pierce Brosnan, Ewan McGregor, Olivia Williams

2010

The Ghost Writer

British Prime Minister Adam Lang

Modern political memoirs are a genre of hackwork unto themselves: they are meant to be seen and not heard.  They are doorstops, the literary equivalent of first editions with uncut pages, something to leave prominently located yet unread.  Issued for “historical” interest in immense quantities, they invariably end up remaindered, as a group of publishers discuss in an early, excellent scene in Roman Polanski’s “The Ghost Writer”.  In fact, the statesman’s contentless, lying memoirs and the standard multimillion dollar advance fee are an accepted way of enriching a politician in his after-life.  They are actually retirement plans and corporate thank-yous.  That anyone would undertake to print a written document by George W. Bush (“Decision Points” is soon upon us) or Sarah Palin (“Going Rogue”), two figures so deeply hostile to language, is the proof in the pudding.  I myself have read a swath of books on Bill and Hillary Clinton, but wouldn’t dream of reading their memoirs, as there is surely nothing more there than a combination of elision and falsity.  Perhaps a political memoir should be approached as something no more than a long-winded alibi.

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Big Trouble in Paradise

Saturday, June 27th, 2009

Sexy Beast, 2000. Directed by Jonathan Glazer.

Gal Dove relaxes in "Sexy Beast"

Gal Dove relaxes in "Sexy Beast"

“Sexy Beast” opens on a scene of simple, Hockney-like geometry. A square pool. A horizontal white plinth of lounge chair. A male body, roughly rectangular. Many shades of blue. The establishing shot marvels at a near-African sun.

Two overlapping pink hearts, candy-shaped, feature in mosaic at the bottom of the perfect blue pool. These are the kind of hearts that, like tiki torches and umbrella-laden drinks, suddenly look agreeable, even touching, and so deeply right in a tropical setting. Totally tasteless and totally sincere. No impoverished labourers created that mosaic, no: those hearts are made of pure love.

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Plot Synopsis: About Schmidt (2002)

Friday, June 18th, 2004

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Jack Nicholson is Warren R. Schmidt, an Omaha insurance executive being forcibly retired at the too-early age of 66. He has lived to see his work literally binned by his firm. His daughter Jeannie (Hope Davis) rarely visits. His wife has become an unpleasant stranger. He has some twenty years, give or take, left to live.

Schmidt is an honest-to-god Everyman: an Everyman who missed every flight to Hollywood. He presents as if bleached, as if a personification of a second-greatest generation, a sum of values, not features. He is the Minimalist Midwesterner: thrift, privacy, and industry incarnate. His plight is memorable; critically, he is not. Schmidt is such an intensely private character that not even the audience will know him entirely.

The film begins as a subtle, well-executed comedy of insulted dignity, as Schmidt tries to find a way to occupy his hours. He tries and fails to slip back to the office. His wife has splurged on a luxury Winnebago and threatens “lots of good times ahead”.

Schmidt retreats to the television, clicks through channels, and sees a beseeching ad for “Childreach”, a charity devoted to children in the Third World. An announcer warns that “no, pity and guilt won’t help”, and Schmidt calls in his pledge.

A form letter arrives with a boldface name, and Schmidt, eyebrows raised, is delivered of a son, six-year old Ndugu of Tanzania. Some $22 is expected of him per month, and the charity suggests a task: Schmidt should write the boy a letter of introduction with a few particulars about his own life in America.

Schmidt pulls out a legal pad and begins to compose the majority of the film’s script, an epistolary narrative of one-sidedness. Schmidt takes to self-absorption with seriousness and therapeutic result. It is through the letters that the film shifts gears, as the comedy gradually decelerates.

His first letter to Ndugu complains about his wife, a banal asterisk of a woman, as matronly as Schmidt is stoically handsome. Before they can take a single “adventure” trip, she fatally strokes out while a passive-aggressive Schmidt “dillydallies” over errands. He finds her pitched forward on the carpet, as her vacuum-cleaner weeps gently on.

Ever the actuary, Schmidt recalculates his life expectancy in light of his solitude. The future looks bleaker and shorter. He buries his wife, as his daughter will later discover, in the second-cheapest coffin available: thrift.

The orphaned Schmidt clings tighter to his imaginary companion Ndugu, and he sets out in his Ark-sized trailer to rescue his daughter for the foolishness of her impending marriage, only weeks away. Her fiancé sports a mullet. His opening salvo to Schmidt involved a transparent sales pitch with the reassuring tag, “this isn’t a pyramid scheme.” The fiancé truly isn’t good enough.

Schmidt’s first sign of life comes when he winningly decides to accept “you sad, sad man” as a sexual overture from a married woman he meets on his journey. Her screams of rejection prompt a dark night of the soul.

When Schmidt finally reaches Denver for the wedding, he joins his future in-laws, including the mother of Jeannie’s fiancé (Kathy Bates). Cultures collide. Schmidt recoils from a ghastly brush with incest inflicted by Bates through her detailed revelations of Jeannie’s sex life. Apparently, “the kids” will hold their marriage together with their “what goes on under the sheets.”

Kathy Bates bursts out of her role as a clapped-out old hippie, weirdly blowing her timing. It becomes abruptly clear that she is a great dramatist, not a comedian, and that she cannot be shoe-horned into a small role in someone else’s film: her presence and talent register too profoundly. Her infamous nude scene, as she joins Schmidt in a creepily snug hot-tub, is directed more like a stunt (Extreme Nudity) than a dramatic scene. She thrills momentarily when she flings down a chicken bone in disgust as her ex-husband, a pompous Toastmaster type, delivers a welcoming oration to Schmidt.

At last, Schmidt receives a response from Tanzania, and its lessons come with the force of a body blow. A Belgian nun has finally, kindly replied, explaining in a short note penned in creaky English that Ndugu is yet too young to read or write, but that she has shared the letters’ contents. Schmidt’s money has provided medication to save Ndugu’s eyesight. Her gentleness, foreign to the rest of the film, exploding like a bomb against Schmidt’s delusions and pride.

In exchange for Ndugu’s vision, Schmidt finally experiences insight. No more letters to be written with the obliviousness of a senile grandfather: “I bet you’re eager to cash this cheque and get yourself something to eat.”

Schmidt, citizen of the First World, needs tiny Ndugu more than he is needed. The tactful Sister is somewhat puzzled by Schmidt’s avalanche of confessional correspondence. At best, Ndugu has been given a précis of the contents. Now Schmidt is more alone than ever. But wait: the boy has enclosed a drawing of two stick figures, one small, one large, holding hands, conjoined against a rainbow. Ndugu, the Earth’s true future, will see, and Schmidt has found ties that bind.