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