July 29, 2016

College bullshit

Everybody Wants Some!! (Richard Linklater, 2016). Watching Boyhood in 2014, I had the sense that it was about to intersect with Slacker – that we were going to be taken back to the start in some great, interlocking scheme devised by Linklater. Everybody Wants Some!! grows out of the same intersection, as a first-year-of-college movie set in Austin, Texas, in rambling student houses and big American cars and to a rock soundtrack. The era – four years after the 1976 of Dazed and Confused – also suggests a “spiritual sequel” to that film. But it’s disappointing by comparison. The sense of nostalgia isn’t as powerful and the film never really drifts as the best Linklater films do, but nor does it ever deepen. It feels almost unformed. Is it too conventional in the end and not personal or experimental enough? The problem is that Linklater can be boring when he’s trying not to be himself (see also: Me and Orson Welles, Fast Food Nation). 

July 28, 2016

Old gods

Creed (Ryan Coogler, 2015). I talked about Fruitvale Station, his first film, back here; on the evidence of Creed, in which the necessary sentimentality of the script is overpowered by a strong social and political sense that feels natural and fresh, you could say that Ryan Coogler is one of the most exciting young US film-makers around. But the most moving part of this comeback/send-off/reboot (compare and contrast with The Force Awakens) is in the way Stallone graciously takes a back seat, both in the story and the production. 

July 19, 2016

Like a play about the end of the world

10 Cloverfield Lane (Dan Trachtenberg, 2016). Speculations about disaster have become the most fertile subject of contemporary cinema, but no one could claim to be wise after the event, or at any point, not even with the title presenting a possible clue. 

July 18, 2016

Night time

The BFG (Steven Spielberg, 2016). Like ET 34 years ago, this is a night film not a day film. About the wonder children have when they see things in the dark. 

July 9, 2016

Cinema itself is a time machine

“I think cinema itself is a time machine” Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

July 3, 2016

Reality distortion fields

Steve Jobs (Danny Boyle, 2015). A portrait of the artist as a sociopathic monster. Or: backstage at the Apple product launches and inside the visionary’s withered conscience. What if your mastery of the universe meant that you knew exactly what to say when you wanted to say it? The screenplays of Aaron Sorkin present an ideal world where we are all wittier and more devastating and even the worst of us have something clever to add. The best aspects of Boyle, Sorkin and actor Michael Fassbender – who has almost never been better, and that actually is saying something – come together in this collaboration, which is not a just a departure from tired biopic conventions, but even appears like a filmed version of a successful and long-running play that never had to bother with being a play. As for the man himself, in the third act, in his black polo-neck and glasses, he has the austere look of a German theologian, a man who is almost all idea.  

June 26, 2016

City of the plains

My story on Christchurch as a location and subject of films, from Heavenly Creatures and Goodbye Pork Pie to The Changeover and The Stolen, is here. It is a follow-up, really, to this from 2011.   

June 24, 2016


Anomalisa (Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson, 2015). When I reviewed Synecdoche, New York back in 2009, I talked about the tangled realities of it, the collapse into surrealism, all of it as a cinematic expression of a total breakdown from which there is no coming back. Anomalisa, co-directed and written by Charlie Kaufman, is familiar territory (see also: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Adaptation, Being John Malkovich) that operates on a border between narcissistic self-absorption and a kind of sweet sorrow that expresses a wider human condition. Its easier to like or sympathise with than Synecdoche was, at least partly because the child-like puppetry softens the edges of Michael Stones predatory acts on a night away on business in Cincinnati that is disastrous or life-changing, depending on where you sit. The sound design is also ingenious: David Thewlis voices Stone, Jennifer Jason Leigh voices Lisa and Tom Noonan voices every other person, whether male, female or a child (it is an symptom of Stones disorder that everyone else in the world is the same person to him, and its a real condition, known as the Fregoli delusion). The presence of Noonan reminds me of his utterly depressing plays-turned-films from the 1990s, What Happened Was and The Wife, which Kaufman would have known and liked.  

June 18, 2016


Son of Saul (Laszlo Nemes, 2015). Nemes’ uncompromising Holocaust film brings hell to the screen in a way that reminds me (blasphemously) of the woozy start of Irreversible – all of hell’s sights, noises, textures, smells. It’s almost more than you can bear and it’s unrelenting, a point of view film suffused with Saul’s guilt and delusion, as well as Nemes’ lasting anger both at the events and earlier, melodramatic depictions. There are few sights more infernal that the sight of prisoners shoveling grey mountains of human ash into rivers. Everything is contaminated by the production of death, and Saul is our guide into the derangement of it. 

June 17, 2016


Shivers (David Cronenberg, 1975) and Rabid (David Cronenberg, 1977). Pool party hedonism in a luxury swingers’ apartment building, an adult movie theatre in the red light district – these are sour (and, yes, deadly) places and experiences in both films. In these early body-horrors, Cronenberg is the sexual revolution’s satirising moralist. The first is wilder and more compressed, limited to the high rise. The second has a larger vision but feels less original. Both are motivated by disgust, and neither is exploitative of its actresses. In both stories, the disease gets out and humans are collateral damage – the most tender sight is of tragic adult star Marilyn Chambers tossed into a truck like garbage at the close of Rabid

June 10, 2016

When you knew it was finished

I Confess (Alfred Hitchcock, 1952). In these authoritarian worlds of men – the church, the law – this is a story in which two women (Anne Baxter, Dolly Haas) transform everything. Among the men, only Montgomery Clift’s Father Michael Logan is as generous and intuitive. Compared to James Stewart or Cary Grant, he seems quiet and introverted. Is this Hitchcock’s most female picture?  

June 4, 2016

In the shadow of Tarkovsky

The Banishment (Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2007). In the shadow of Tarkovsky, sure. Not just the big images – wind in the long grass, the lost blonde mother disappearing, with all the yearning and nostalgia – but the small ones too. The jigsaw puzzle the kids are doing, the bookmark – the religious art. But you can’t help suspecting that Zvyagintsev is saying something more, that it’s not just derivativeness or showing off an influence, as some suspected, but it is about asking what the Tarkovsky world looks like when the miraculous no longer intervenes and simple bad luck takes its place. The world that is doomed and secular, or the expulsion that is visually alluded to. 

Raving maniacs

May 31, 2016

World apart

Room (Lenny Abrahamson, 2015). Circumspect in important ways and a film about acting that itself depends on great acting. About acting? To me, the centre of the film comes when Brie Larson’s Joy pretends her son is dead to fool her captor, and her son must then play dead, and carefully follow her instructions. In that moment, their world apart is more apart than at any other time, as the outside world opens up to them and us, and that’s the hinge of it all too: the first half of the story was easier for her to bear and the second half is easier for the boy, who seems so surprisingly wise and grave. 

May 27, 2016

The image of happiness

Sans Soleil (Chris Marker, 1983). Watched again as the President of the United States visits Hiroshima. “I looked at those pictures, and it was as if the entire year of 1965 had just been covered with ashes.” 

May 20, 2016

Not quite rightness

Yella (Christian Petzold, 2007). Not quite rightness, done with such precision and control, such attention to detail. The business activity, the quiet, the envelopes full of cash, the doubling. 

May 14, 2016

It snowed

Uzak (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2002). Maybe it’s not as grandly-staged or as beautiful as more recent Ceylan – the chief location is the director’s Istanbul apartment – but, and this is a good thing, it’s probably funnier, in a Beckett-like way. There is a lot of talk about Tarkovsky but the gag (to use the word very loosely) is that the film is not really like that.    

May 13, 2016

The green light of the Empire Hotel sign

Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958). “She had come back from the dead, and he felt it, and knew it, and probably was even bewildered.”  

May 7, 2016

A collector of invented stories

Mysterious Object at Noon (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2000). For fans, this early experimental work, shot roughly on black and white video and blown up for release, has a raw appeal and there are some trace elements of later Weereasethakul masterpieces in it: that sudden, dream-like appearance of the supernatural in the everyday, which is barely even remarked upon as strange or unlikely. To us, the films feel like a version of Thai folklore; it’s hard to know how they seem at home, but one of the revealing and ingenious things about Mysterious Object at Noon is how Weerasethakul invents and develops his own folklore that could pass as “tradition” to us. Equally, though, the films are also open to tough social realities. 

May 1, 2016

Where is thy brother?

The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2015). A different kind of horror movie, made with historical fidelity and Bergman or Dreyer-like seriousness – and a rare economy and a gradual increase of dread throughout. This small masterpiece may be the greatest religious film in years – relatively calm and steady where Von Trier’s more personal Antichrist was psychologically overwrought and fiercely anguished, but it is just as deep.