April 30, 2015

Rope over abyss

Lucy (Luc Besson, 2014). Chinese gangsters in black suits and ties, French cops, imaginary drugs, racist horror, casual and obnoxious violence, Tree of Life fantasy, borderline experimental structures and edits, berserk pseudo-science and high-speed nonsense and Scarlett Johansson growing ever more post-human in her third and easily worst advanced-being film of 2014 (after Her and Under the Skin) but better still than anything she gets to do for Joss Whedon. 

April 27, 2015

Phones, laptops, airports

Fifth Estate (Bill Condon, 2013). A new media landscape of mobile phones and laptops, anonymous airports and noisy newsrooms. The mostly unloved WikiLeaks film never quite works out which WikiLeaks story it should tell, so writer Josh Singer (The West Wing) creates an ungainly blend of a Julian Assange/Daniel Berg buddy film, an abbreviated account of how some big newspapers scored a big story, a clumsy meditation on information and how it flows and a Homeland-ish thriller about State Department sources who may (or may not) be in danger. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Assange is an awkward, messianic, driven, antisocial figure, which means that Cumberbatch has probably nailed him – his Australian accent is unwaveringly bang-on, too – and I enjoyed David Thewlis’ portrayal of the Guardian’s Nick Davies as the archetypal bolshy, wry, sarcastic, no-bullshit journo. But the film makes the fatal mistake of assuming that everyone else is as concerned as Berg (played by Daniel Bruhl) was with questions about whether he or Assange was the true moral centre of WikiLeaks – on this evidence, it doesn’t appear that Assange was really too bothered, either. There is a lot of duelling laptops. How long ago it all seems. 

April 25, 2015

Too late

Night Moves (Kelly Reichardt, 2013). Kelly Reichardt’s stories are inconclusive, they drift. She likes looking at the world through car windows. There is an unhurried pace to the films and a sense that her isolated characters could easily disappear. So it is in Night Moves. You might initially have doubts about the sullen protagonist (Jesse Eisenberg at his most, er, sullen) but he suits the growing sense of pessimism. Compare and contrast with a film from the 1970s. Here, any kind of hope or activism is an illusion. It’s already too late and there’s already too much to do. 

April 23, 2015


The Salt of the Earth (Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, Wim Wenders, 2014). There is a kind of profundity that comes easily or flows naturally in The Salt of the Earth – an intensely visual film in which all the best analogies are literary. 

April 21, 2015

April 19, 2015

Lysergic properties

The Congress (Ari Folman, 2013). The entirely reasonable psychedelic shifts of Waltzing with Bashir go much, much further in The Congress, breaking out past the limits of time, space, history and identity towards a counter-cultural science-fiction theory of everything. Brave, serious, dazzling and entirely unreasonable. Pictured: Robin Wright, star and subject, in a preparatory moment with a helpful guide. 

April 18, 2015

New life

The Immigrant (James Gray, 2013). Old stories retold as though the base material of the immigrant experience is melodrama purified by time and distance. Unusually, Joaquin Phoenix is never quite right in it (less unusually, neither is Jeremy Renner). But this is a Marion Cotillard vehicle, and a better one for her even than Two Days, One Night to which it almost seems related: she is defiant, frail, sorrowful, haunted, even holy (see above). The thing looks ravishing too with its shooting by Darius Khondji and its obvious and intended Godfather Part II/Once Upon a Time in America richness. The yellow light of history and a cold, brown city. 

April 1, 2015

The whole world is outside this room

Citizenfour (Laura Poitras, 2014). “One day we will know everything.” The hotel room is a non-place, it could be anywhere in the world, and it is probably brighter than you pictured (did you think the curtains would be closed?). The whistleblower appears abruptly in the story and disappears just as abruptly. The narrator and director is never on camera. Sometimes they are just initials in messages, or off-screen voices. Journalist Glenn Greenwald is the most willing to put himself in the public eye, perhaps the most able to bear the weight. Over the course of those strange days in Hong Kong, the outside world slowly closes in, until it is right at the door.