October 26, 2016

You want it simpler

The Conjuring 2 (James Wan, 2016). Two films in, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are very good as devoted Christian paranormal-investigating couple Ed and Lorraine Warren, but I want to see something simpler now, that focuses on them, their story, their faith, without the generic horror bells and whistles, regularly timed shocks and the ludicrous Marilyn Manson goth-nun that terrifies Lorraine throughout. While the art-directed shabbiness of 1970s London often feels overdone, the film is at its best when it sticks closest to the known facts of the so-called Enfield haunting, including the possibility of hoaxes.  

October 25, 2016

In the corner of the morning

Victoria (Sebastian Schipper, 2015). Three hours in Berlin, in the corner of the morning, that move seamlessly from rave film to crime film to something other. One of the best things about this enormously impressive stunt is that you always believe what happens is possible, which also means it is much more than a stunt. But who was she before and who is she after? Schipper and his writers wisely don’t offer any clues. 

October 8, 2016

I can see the monsters

Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children (Tim Burton, 2016). Less camp and straighter than Burton has been for years, which is very good news. There are also interesting ways in which this seems to intersect with both WG Sebald and Austerlitz. Has anyone written more about this? Here, the kindertransport has become a supernatural fable in the hands of a contemporary writer named Ransom Riggs who formed a narrative around strange old photos of children (even the settings seem right: Wales, Belgium). There might be something of the book Haunted Air in that, too. In the story, we keep replaying a loop of time to delay death, and eventually the reassuring supernatural fantasy comes to almost completely obscure the historical tragedy.

September 25, 2016


The Beyond (Lucio Fulci, 1981). Crude, often incoherent and wildly excessive and repetitive (why do something once if you can do it at least 10 times?), but packed with memorable images that seem to have poured out from an unmediated subconscious of 1970s horror, as though the nastiest parts of Dont Look Now, The Amityville Horror, Dawn of the Dead and The Sentinel (and others I have missed) were somehow spliced together as a series of unheard warnings aimed at a hungry audience that probably left cinemas more shocked and confused than they expected to be. There are basements and windows, and eyes that are constantly at risk of being gouged out or blinded.

September 22, 2016

How lonely does it get?

I Saw the Light (Marc Abraham, 2015). What if an actor cast as someone who was troubled cannot really embody that trouble? What if the highs and lows of a musical career, of a marriage, of an addiction are talked about but are never communicated to us? What if a film named itself after a gospel song that explained the division of the world into dark and light, but the film gave us neither, just a grey in-between state?

September 18, 2016

Storytelling and violence

The Hateful Eight (Quentin Tarantino, 2015). Does this take us back to Reservoir Dogs? We have one room like a stage set, a group of strangers with aliases and secrets, backstories and revenge, plus a theme about white male fear of sexual humiliation or rape by black men (Chris Penn’s unrepeatable line about prison to Mr Blonde in Dogs; Samuel L Jackson’s remarkable flashback here). All stories inevitably end in violence, but since at least Kill Bill Tarantino’s films have been bloated with self-indulgence and clumsy attempts to include a female dimension (at its worst in Death Proof). Short answer to the latter problem: never cast Zoe Bell again. Long answer to the first: blame the Weinsteins. 

September 14, 2016

Another world was possible

David Lynch’s Inland Empire
“Extraordinary picture. It’s like standing in front of the most obscure, enormous and odd modern painting and you just connect with it or you don’t. I talked to Laura Dern a couple of days before shooting and I asked her, ‘What’s it about, because he won’t give me a script.’ And she said, ‘Well I’ve been filming for a year and I don’t know what it’s about.'”
Jeremy Irons, interviewed at Indiewire

September 13, 2016

Desert to discotheque

Simon of the Desert (Luis Bunuel, 1965). Incomplete, and with a satirical/heretical feeling that predates both Life of Brian (those comedy beards, the absurdity of asceticism) and The Last Temptation of Christ (its unexpected forms of Satan in the desert), this is Bunuel at a turning point, about to leave Mexico to return to Europe, and delivering a truly barbed ending. They’re doing dances, brand new dances, called the Radioactive Flesh. 

September 10, 2016


One More Time With Feeling (Andrew Dominik, 2016). When I reviewed the Nick Cave documentary 20,000 Days on Earth two years ago, at Twitter-length, I called it “a portrait of the artist as a disciplined professional” in which “Nick Cave makes a fortress out of his Nick Cave-ness”. For me, that film gave audiences the illusion of intimacy and proximity while Cave stayed behind the image he has constructed. But then, why shouldn’t he? It didn’t help that Push the Sky Away, the album the film coincided with, sounded like the work of a songwriter who didn’t have much he really needed to say, who looked and sounded settled. Hence that word “professional”. Cave in the 1980s was anything but that.
I haven’t revisited the film but Push the Sky Away has grown on me a little. The follow-up, Skeleton Tree, is similar sonically, but more minimal and sketchy, simpler overall, with a sadder and more haunted feeling. That sense of it being haunted is inescapable as the unbearable event (the “trauma”) that hangs over it is the sudden, accidental death of Cave’s son. One More Time With Feeling is the documentary that accompanies the record and the title does several things, besides being a lyric in one of the songs – it implies that this unofficial sequel to 20,000 Days is the more emotional restaging of that earlier, artificial film, and it also alludes to its own production as an observational verite documentary in which the spirit is somehow Dont Look Back as if remade by Terrence Malick. We are in the midst of a band’s process but we are also within Cave’s consciousness, relayed to us by searching, sometimes poetic, emotionally open voice-overs. It is about grief and privacy and love, and it poses questions about whether art can help you make sense of trauma or whether it’s merely a passing distraction. There is an honesty and vulnerability that Cave was reluctant to show us in 20,000 Days – this Cave is someone you warm to and feel for and the use of 3D, far from being a gimmick, increases a sense of intimacy with the subjects. It makes our viewing more individual. You are closer to them – Cave and his wife Susie and his closest collaborator Warren Ellis – and further away from the people you are sitting with in your shared (global, really) experience of communing with a private singer about a very private event. The effect is utterly absorbing. 

September 6, 2016

September 3, 2016


Goodbye to Language (Jean-Luc Godard, 2014). On the DVD there is a trailer for Malick’s To the Wonder and so I came to see Goodbye to Language almost as a flipside or response to the only truly disappointing Malick film, an inscrutable and perhaps cynical version. The failure of language doesn’t point to something transcendent, something to surrender to, a religious impulse. You are in a thicket of non-meaning, carried by its broken style and amused incoherence.   

August 31, 2016

Dead heat

Trumbo (Jay Roach, 2015). The Coens’ Hail, Caesar! seemed too loose, too fantastic and farcical, but this treatment of the same material – Hollywood  in the 40s and 50s, Communist fear, poisonous gossip columnists – is just earnest and dutiful. Which wins? It feels like a dead heat.  

August 26, 2016

In a dream of being seen

Mysteries of Lisbon (Raul Ruiz, 2010). Life in a dream of being seen, with witnesses, and on stages. 

August 22, 2016

The shame of history

Enemies of the People (Rob Lemkin and Thet Sambath, 2009). In a gentler and less cerebral way, Cambodian journalist Thet Sambath gets to the same places Joshua Oppenheimer got to in his Indonesian genocide films The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence – the shame, the embarrassment of history. It’s a low-key, patient and undemonstrative film based on the slowly evolving relationship between Sambath, whose father was killed by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, and Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge’s “Brother Number Two”, second only to Pol Pot. Chea and other former killers contemplate their consciences and their souls, explain or demonstrate their methods and show us where the ditches were. What Sambath learns, and this is something the Oppenheimer films do not convey, is that the truth from the past you dreaded or always half-expected does not come with a great flash of insight or pain or outrage, but arrives as simple human sadness about our flaws and unexplained motivations and the gaps in our memories. 

August 12, 2016

Ghost in you

Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016). Extending cleverly from his collaboration with Kristen Stewart on the more classical Clouds of Sils Maria, Personal Shopper has Assayas asking that most contemporary of questions: can you be trolled by the dead? This film is both an up-to-the-minute ghost story and an almost experimental character study developed for the precise talents of Stewart: that hurt loneliness, that sullenness. 

August 10, 2016

Curated world

Paterson (Jim Jarmusch, 2016). “It’s like living in the 20th century!” That line defines the film. So does this speculation: there wouldn’t be a book on Paterson’s shelf that Jarmusch has not read himself. 

August 8, 2016

Religious film of the year

Midnight Special (Jeff Nichols, 2016). So deeply American in its story of religious persecution, so packed with early 21st century anxiety and terror despite its deeper yearning towards the more innocent 70s/80s science-fiction of ET, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Starman, and containing perhaps Michael Shannon’s strongest and most tender work so far for Jeff Nichols.