Sunday, 30 November 2014

What We Do In The Shadows: What if vampires were just ... arseholes?

What We Do In The Shadows - if nothing else, it at least give you something you can do to annoy all the Twilight fans you shouldn’t even have in your life in the first place. Tell them to go check it out; that it gives a real sense of what it means to be a vampire in an uncaring age; hell say whatever you have to in order to make them go; they’re never going to speak to you again so it’s worth the time it takes. It would be like that time I got two overly cineaste former friends to rent Pamela Anderson’s Barb Wire on the premise that it was a remake of Casablanca. Former friends. Maybe I should have held back. Though, in fairness, it totally IS a remake of Casablanca. With strippers. In your heart you know that Rick’s CafĂ© Americain would have had strippers in real life.

Does it serve a purpose other than annoying Twilight fans? Probably, yes, if you’re a fan of the comedy of awkwardness and mockumentaries in general, which it turns out I’m not (when I watched The Office almost ten years ago, it was in a near constant state of cringe that I might actually BE David Brent; people’s reactions to me saying that since then have been more amusing than I actually found The Office). What We Do In The Shadows is one of those movies where people are trying to be funny by playing people who don’t know that they’re complete idiots, and my problem is that even when that’s superbly well done, a) it’s not actually funny and b) my real life consists of dealing with people who don’t know they’re complete idiots.

Does it pass the Bechdel test? For the third time this evening, no. Maybe nothing does. 

How does it handle classical issues of vampirism?

Well, vampires don’t reflect in mirrors, but they can be photographed and filmed by video cameras. 

Could Wellington, New Zealand, population 400,000 support the dozen vampires and eight werewolves which we see in the course of the film without anyone noticing the steady erosion of the citizenry? Hard to say, though having the world’s stupidest police force would almost certainly make discovery less likely.

Are vampires sexy and irresistible? See post title.

Does never getting old mean never growing up? See post title.

Why do vampires prefer virgin blood? Best joke in the movie, actually.

The Drop: James Gandolfini goes out on a high note

All my ribbing on Bubba Rogowski to one side, I’m a fan of Denis Lehane. I’ve read most of his books, and still consider the early Kenzie and Gennaro books to be rock solid modern noir. And his stuff adapts well to the screen. So the thought of a movie with James Gandolfini and a script based on a Lehane short story; this seemed like a good idea to me.

More movies ought to be made out of short stories; a long short or a novella has just about the right amount of stuff in it for a movie, where most novels are too long and have to get hacked to ribbons to fit on a screen. 

I don’t know how faithful The Drop is to the underlying text, but it works pretty well as a short movie; you have enough time to get to know the characters, and the little bit extra you need to realise that you didn’t know them at all, and then it’s done its job. I like that in a movie.

On the other hand, it fails the hell out of the Bechdel test. There are two named female characters, and they never meet. So no conversations. Still possibly better than the last Gandolfini movie I saw, but I am beginning to wonder if I’m ever going to see a movie that even comes close to Bechdel compliance. Maybe it’s me. Maybe my taste is unevolved. 

That aside, it’s a nice tight little movie which gets its punch from how hard it is to figure out what’s going on. The Drop is one of those movies which from moment one makes it clear that things are going to end badly. The question is, how badly, and for who? Is this one of those movies where the bad guys go down in the end, or one of those movies where the good guy is doomed? And while we’re wondering about that, who IS the good guy here? Is Tom Hardy really just a lunk tending bar, or is he up to something? Is all that money going to get itself stolen, and who’s going to be holding the bag if it is? Is that dog going to wind up being somebody’s motivation for a riproaring rampage of revenge? 

In The Drop no-one’s giving anything away, and neither am I. Go check it out. It doesn’t go where you think it’s going; but where it DOES go will still take you by surprise.

Interstellar; should have sent the robots

The science of Interstellar doesn’t really work for me. Gravity and relativity don’t operate that way. If you’ve got enough gravity to influence the time, you’ve got enough gravity to squash you flat enough that time is the least of your worries. I’m also amazed at the way that the Ranger is single stage to orbit for four passengers plus two solid steel robots despite being smaller that the Shuttle Orbiter; if they’ve got engines that powerful, then a lot of their other problems ought to have solved themselves ages ago. But people have been ragging on Interstellar’s science since Noah stepped off the ark, so I’ll leave that to the experts.

Instead, I am going to rag on how Interstellar fails the Bechdel test so hard that it punches a hole in reality big enough for Matthew McConaughey to bring his whole family through. There are two (2) named female characters, who never actually meet or have a conversation, still less one about something other than the male cast. For the rest, it’s guys, guys, guys all the way. I nearly called this post “Stars need women”. For added fun, both the women are defined largely by being daughters; this is a movie about how fathers let their daughters down, but mean well anyhow. Anne Hathaway, the nearest thing this century has to Audrey Hepburn, gets to be Michael Caine’s daughter, which appears to be literally the only reason she gets to go on the big manly space rocket. (Mind you, the staffing appears to be a matter of whim and happenstance; Matthew McConaughey trips over the rocket and is promptly appointed pilot). Jessica Chastain gets to be Matthew McConaughey’s tomboy daughter, a character who might as well be a boy or a robot for all the gender identity she displays. And that’s it for the girls.

Not the men need to jump for joy. Caine is playing Michael Caine, and McConaughey is playing his middle aged self; when Matt Damon shows up, he’s playing a psychotic weasel, which I almost haven’t the heart to tell him is not necessarily acting. Matt is so good at psychotic weasels that you really do have to wonder. Everyone else is pretty much there to read the teleprompter; Mike, Matt and the other Matt stand out because they have enough on the ball to come across as people despite the script leaving them with nothing but their own talent to save them.

No, the stars of the movie are the robots, big featureless slabs of metal who get all the jokes in the movie and pretty much all of the matter of fact heroism without which the ostensible heroes would be high and dry with nothing to show for their efforts. The robots have their shit together and are blithely untroubled by all the crap the humans have brought into space, and they’re funny to boot. If they hadn’t had the humans holding them back, the mission would have been a glorious success.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Nightcrawler; a guide for entrepreneurs of all ages

I saw Nightcrawler four days ago, and yet when I sat down to bloc “this week’s movie” I had to look at the listings page to jog my memory. I’m not sure if that means that my mind is finally starting to drift, or that Nightcrawler is not as good as I thought it was on the day.

At the time, I was pretty impressed. It’s a good looking movie. It must be fun to shoot the scenery without having to worry that it’s supposed to be somewhere else; Nightcrawler is LA, in the role of LA, and the streetscape glistens in the half-light. And the performances are solid, to the extent that anyone’s getting a look in around Jake Gyllenhall’s portrayal of the appalling Lou Bloom.

What makes Lou Bloom appalling is not what he does. We’re numbed and blunted now; in every two hour entertainment we see the good guys hand out more death and destruction than any modern person will see in a life time, and we’re programmed to cheer. So when Lou drags a half dead road accident victim into a better place for his shot, or orchestrates two or three murders for the sake of exclusive video, that’s just routine for the multiplex. What carries it over the edge is the creepy running commentary. There’s always someone for Lou to explain his actions to, either on the scene, or later on as he tries to turn a profit on his latest piece of evil. And he has an endless stream of glib patter, whether he’s making up gibberish about a bike that he’s just stolen or spinning a line of crypto-MBA self-justification to keep his hapless assistant from ever getting a raise. Lou is not a terrible human being; he’s something completely alien, almost, but not quite, impersonating a terrible human being.

It’s an extraordinary performance from Gyllenhall, who’s always been a little otherworldly, but never in such a malevolent way. Only time will tell whether it will change the direction of his career, which hasn’t really had a direction up until now; he’s always been striking, but it’s been hard to know what kind of actor he wants to be. Lou Bloom is his first villain, and he’s a villain for our times. Hollywood’s made a lot of movies about journalists who do horrible things to get an exclusive. The horrible is always negotiable, but the characters tend to go one of two ways; either they knew better once and they’ve just had a moral collapse, or they’re grandiose strangers to decency, practically relishing the sheer wickedness as part of the fun. Lou is not grandiose; he’s small time, glib and self-centred. It’s fascinating to watch him run his bullshit on the people around him, convinced that it’s working, that they’re taking him at face value as a skilled, educated, real boy. Meanwhile his colleagues and victims in journalism - Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton and Kevin Rahm - aren’t taken in for a moment, but can’t think of a decent way to confront him. Lou sails on obliviously, thinking that he’s won everyone over when really he’s just run them over and they can’t get up.

It’s one of those performances where either you’re thinking “I work with someone just like that.” or you’re anxiously wondering if that’s the way you look to other people. Of course, if you actually were Lou Bloom, it would never occur to you for a moment that there was anything wrong with what you were seeing, still less that the problem might be you. So, this week’s top tip; if you’ve been to see Nightcrawler and you thought Lou made a lot of sense, make sure you tell people how much you liked him. You’ll be doing them a favour. They’ll appreciate the headsup.