Thracian dawg's reviews

→ in

Thanks for the review of Turtle Diary. I know the book (Hoban's famous SF novel, Riddley Walker was The Bomb), never knew there was a movie adaptation. Let alone with a screenplay by Pinter! I have to check that out.

The sea was angry that day, my friends
Page contents: On the Job (2013) / Captain Phillips (2013) / 12 years a slave (2013) / Café de Flore (2011) / Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) /Her - (2013)

Jacquot is definitely an acquired taste. His previous film "Deep in the woods" better represents his themes: a tramp steals the daughter of a wealthy doctor by mesmerizing her ... she could of course, merely be "pretending" to his sex slave in order to escape her life.

"Turtle Diary " easily falls into the category of forgotten gem.

I always thought THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST was a little pretentious and overrated, but you make a lot of good points regarding the film. I do agree that William Hurt's performance is far better than what he is given credit for.

The sea was angry that day, my friends
As a director of so called "women's" film; Nicole Holofcener's films may not have enough car chases and gun battles to warrant the attention of most film viewers, but her small roster of movies is pretty decent: Enough Said; Please Give; Friends with Money; Lovely & Amazing; and Walking and Talking.

On the Job (2013) - Matti

Graduation day

The set-up? A politician places an ambitious young investigator on the case of a high level drug dealer who was gunned down in broad daylight. Getting this off the front pages and off the books quickly is of utmost importance, plus getting tough on crime always polls well with his constituency.

The film definitely has a kind of complexity at the beginning but the story is essentially, a pair of wet boys; Tatang (Joel Torre) and Daniel (Gerald Anderson)

and a pair of good guys; Police Sergeant Acosta (Joey Marquez) and Francis (Piolo Pascual) working the same case, albeit from opposite ends.

Daniel the thug and Francis the FBN agent (the FBI might be a decent North American equivalent) are mentored by the older men whose emotional dilapidation seems ooze out of their cold, weary eyes. The young men are essentially mirror images; both are full of swagger and slightly misplaced in their chosen professions: ones that are rather hostile and completely unforgiving of mistakes. When Francis takes the case away from the lowly Sergeant Acosta he can't help but sneer at this desk jockey. Francis has grown up on a pile of money that has miraculously removed all the obstacles of poverty. Francis has also married well and his father in law (the politician) places his plum assignments like entries in his resume. Although he doesn't know it yet, he's being groomed for the highest levels of society, one that may even include the Presidential palace.

Likes? The snapshots of Manila from it's dark backstreet slums to it's frontstreet opulence; there's almost seamless transitions from the highest corridors of power to the lowest rat infested hovel. The casual rot is exquisite here, although the Philippines isn't quite approaching the dizzying levels of American corruption, it's clearly getting there. Sergeant Acosta doesn't seem to pay for his food or drink when he's out in the streets. Tatang is putting his daughter through law school with the fruits of his labor but he's oblivious to the actual reality of his family life. Francis' girlfriend is clearly clued in about their upper class world, but she's waiting patiently for Francis to open his eyes and get with the program.

Set decoration is important, the minor details reveal a lot. I'll point out one sequence where Daniel tools around the Filipino prison. We glimpse it's hierarchies amongst the inmates; the daily routine; the social structures but this maze within a maze metaphor reveals the utter size of the problem. And any attempt at a clean-up will be one of Herculean proportions.

At the core of this film, everyone seems to internalized the golden rule: those who have the gold ... make the rules. Which usually is only a tiny variation on the monopoly board game: when they pass go, they collect a thousand dollars, when anyone else passes go, they fork over a hundred bucks. Society separates into born winners and born losers at birth. The casual way they accept the brutality and violence of their lives is heartbreaking. Tatang explains with almost fatherly concern that if, in the future, Daniel is given the assignment to silence him: he has to take the job and he has do it well, since that's the name of the game. Tatang is probably the only person who's taken the slightest interest in Daniel in his entire life. That assignment, when it comes down, is going to be a huge problem for him.

On the job -

The sea was angry that day, my friends
Captain Phillips (2013) - Greengrass

Between the devil and the deep blue sea

The one sentence review: A rather gripping drama.

Advance word for this film was that some people in the audience were being carted out on stretchers, the suspense being so nerve wracking, their bodies couldn't handle the intense emotional strain the film delivered. Good God! This was a bit worrisome. Would my feeble heart be able take this action adventure? I had trouble sleeping the night before; I tossed and turned all night with the single thought resonating unbearably in my mind: would the greatest military machine in history (America literally has a thousand foreign military bases) prevail against ... four barefoot Somalians? The suspense was killing me bro, almost.

Hollywoodland. Whatever the budgets be for these lumbering widgets they call films: whether 80 mill; 100 mill; or 120 million dollars per film, the end product is usually the same, they all have about the same caloric equivalent of a day old twinkie. Full of CGI and noise; perfectly constructed fluffs of fantasy and propaganda that signify nothing. Any kind of social revelance is carefully replaced with false corporate myths of mindless consumption, irrational hero worship and complete docility to the overlords, however vicious they may be.

So imagine my astonishment when I began to notice during the film—perhaps in their haste to complete the film? The filmmakers had forgotten to excise the obvious political content within their story: which was being boldly revealed through drips and droplets and finally, splatters of blood.

First of all, they actually state the obvious: first world corporations have created the economic dead zone by over fishing the Somalia coast—not a problem for them, the world is their oyster, they can move on to greener pastures; but massive misery and suffering for the actual people who have to live there. What do you when the natural resources of your environment that has sustained your community over several lifetimes—if not centuries, simply disappears because of a corporate bottom line in some country half a world away? Where's the justice here? The irony being the vast majority were not even businessmen but simply decent guys trying to put food on their table for their families. What do fishermen do when their waters are empty of all bounty? Well, if you're a skinny; first you sit on the beach, bitching and moaning, watching those floating behemoths cruising back and forth on the horizon, until a faint idea eventually crosses your mind ... there's gold in them thar barges. What about a five fingered discount? Or perhaps even a bit of swashbuckling?

Granted, some of the other ideas are only faint impressions that zip by rather quickly in the film. But as film goers we can easily cast our minds back to the last great Somalia film: Black Hawk Down. Where one Somalian War Lord bitch slapped America so badly, they've never been back. We can easily imagine in the situation rooms all over Washington, everyone is sloshing around in rubber boots, because the specter of an American hostage situation playing out in the media has scared everyone completely witless. That doomsday scenario can not play out. We can easily understand where the urgency and panic is coming from and why they've unleashed the military, sight unseen of any kind of plan.

Also notice how they actually tow the lifeboat quietly back out into international waters? Dealing with the Somalians in their own sovereign territory would cause immense legal head aches, not to mention an international scandal. On the high seas, one can impose one's own brand of tough street justice.

There's a situation in the control room after the Somalians board the ship when they threaten to kill one of the crew members in order to get their way and Phillips is quite adamant (One can become surprisingly articulate and philosophical about the misuses of violence when the violence is aimed at you) Phillip says there has to be a better way. Using violence to solve your problems is wrong! They relent and agree with him. But compare this tense showdown to the one at the end where the aim of the filmmakers seems actually get the audience to cheer and exalt sadistically at the blood lust.

Although our eponymous hero is American, the cavalry is not coming because of some trick of birth. Phillips value exists only as chattel; as a low level manager of some private corporation; this affords him a modicum of self worth. It's a rare moment in film when you can actually step through the looking glass and see the real world being portrayed up there on the screen. Despite endless lip service to freedom and democracy; one can clearly see how the American military simply functions as brute force for private corporations, securing areas on a global scale for revenue extraction and massive transfers of wealth through mass murder or the threat of mass murder.

Although the precariat has been represented in European films for some while now, this was the first time an American production filled in the blanks to such a degree. Indeed, all the ordinary people in the film seem to be united by starvation or the threat of starvation. During a tense moment in the lunch room with his own lazy *ss crew (who after lounging around all day in their pajamas, drinking the company's gourmet coffee and sprinkled donuts) actually have the nerve to start whining about being murdered on the job. What a bunch of pansies! Phillips quickly threatens to jettison overboard, anyone or everyone at the next stop and replace them with workers much more docile and accepting of their life span within the free market economy. Ironic, since in an earlier scene, Phillips expressed his own anxiety over his continued employment with the company; one slip up and he knows he's gone. He's seen the line of people, waiting in the wings, willing to accept three quarters or even half his pay for the same duties. He despairs for his own children's bleak future in world where all workers are being reduced to the status of part time stooges. This film may have gotten a higher mark had they managed to slip in the overt allusion to just who the actual cutthroats are in this world of ours. Workers of the world unite!

Captain Phillips -

So imagine my astonishment when I began to notice during the film—perhaps in their haste to complete the film? The filmmakers had forgotten to excise the obvious political content within their story: which was being boldly revealed through drips and droplets and finally, splatters of blood.

First of all, they actually state the obvious: first world corporations have created the economic dead zone by over fishing the Somalia coast—not a problem for them, the world is their oyster, they can move on to greener pastures; but massive misery and suffering for the actual people who have to live there. What do you when the natural resources of your environment that has sustained your community over several lifetimes—if not centuries, simply disappears because of a corporate bottom line in some country half a world away? Where's the justice here? The irony being the vast majority were not even businessmen but simply decent guys trying to put food on their table for their families. What do fishermen do when their waters are empty of all bounty? Well, if you're a skinny; first you sit on the beach, bitching and moaning, watching those floating behemoths cruising back and forth on the horizon, until a faint idea eventually crosses your mind ... there's gold in them thar barges. What about a five fingered discount? Or perhaps even a bit of swashbuckling?
Although he's still a cog in the machine, this is, possibly, the result of Greengrass being the director. He is, by nature, a documentary filmmaker and, I feel, truth/facts and 'the real story' are more important to him than many/most big name Hollywood directors. About half the feature films he's made are based on real life situations/events and I think these stories appeal to him because of his background in documentary filmmaking for World In Action, which was a documentary/current affairs series in the UK from the early 60's through to the late 90's.
5-time MoFo Award winner.

The sea was angry that day, my friends
12 years a slave (2013) - McQueen

Tales of wealth and prosperity

The set-up? Head hunters come to Sarasota Springs, New York, circa 1841, looking for a few exceptional men to fill choice positions. Solomon Northup(Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a talented musician. By chance, his wife and children have just left to visit her parents for a couple of weeks, so a well paid, temporary gig in Washington couldn't come at a more opportune time. Solomon steps up to the plate with no false modesty, unaware that "exceptional" in this context means urban.

At first I was puzzled by opening of the film. It seems a rather odd place to begin the story. However, on reflection, this precedes Solomon's last moments as a free man. After this temporary idyll on the Turner plantation; he finally lets go of every trace and memory of his previous life. Because of a "so called" biblical plague that decimates his crops, Master Epps (Michael Fassbender) rents out his slaves to the neighboring plantation for a season or two. Judge Turner is a much kinder and gentler slave owner, his place is more relaxed, although to be perfectly honest, anything beats the back breaking labor of picking cotton. He sets Solomon up with a gig and even allows him to keep the handful of coins that rightfully belongs to him; allowing Solomon to create a tiny little nest egg, of which he will use to make his final bid for freedom.

I'll name three supporting actors who really shine in the film. Paul Dano, who I'll openly accuse of appearing to have way too much fun playing a Louisiana cracker. Sarah Paulson as the desperately unhappy wife of Epps, who's traded her crowded one room shack for a sterile marriage in the big empty house. There's a joke circulating the plantation that if you want your drink of lemonade ice cold, you get Mistress Epps to hold onto your glass for a couple of minutes. And on the short list of cinema's most miserable, God forsaken characters, Lupita Nyong'o's girlish Patsey must surely rank high on the list. Patsey is well aware she's on a one way trip downwards, forever spiraling into deeper and darker levels of the living hell that has become her life.

Although much of the film is grim and harrowing (on the other hand, it could have been much much worse) there are moments of subtle humor. When Solomon aka Platt is off loaded at the port, he gets cuffed in the ear, for not responding when his name was called. Of course, no one had actually bothered to inform him of his new slave name. Or when Platt is banished to the Epps plantation, first day there, Master Epps assembles his slaves and brings out the mother of all justifiers to thump them senseless; the sacred writings from God. The Holy bible states right there, in black and white, that he can whip unruly slaves with many, many lashes, he then arbitrarily interprets many many as meaning 40, 60,or even 150, depending on his ill temper that day. Or when the slaves return from the Turner plantation; Epps takes the time to stop and tell Platt, he knows he's been positively luxuriating over at that other plantation, but he's back home now, back in his clutches, so he better get his mind right; while Epps lectures him, he uses one of shorter slaves as a arm rest.

Likes? The crane shot outside Platt's basement conditioning cell. As he cries out for someone to rescue him, the camera moves from the barred window up the brick wall to reveal Washington and the Capital building in the distance, which seems to suggest a profitable (and extremely well protected) niche business.
  • The bustle and industrious movement of the north contrasts with the slow moving south; where even the trees are so shiftless, Spanish moss makes a home upon their limbs, then dreams of riffling in the breeze.
  • The sound design: the swell of cicadas; the crack of the bull whip in the open fields. I think it was "Inception" that first introduced those really deep sonorous blasts, I loved that borrow, although upon checking Hans Zimmer seems to have borrowed that from himself.
  • They've also taken the right moment to age Platt, the shock of white hairs appears in a scene showing just how dangerously accustomed he's become to this world and one that he's growing old in.
  • Platt is pictured several times either, building and visually framed in within empty houses.
The stories of the three favored women; if you put them all together, they seem to suggest a complete turn of the wheel. Patsey visits the black mistress of a neighboring plantation; the white owner there has taken a fancy to her, and she no longer has to work in the fields; she believes happy days are here indeed. Eliza (who was shipped south with Platt) was also the favorite of her master and bore him a son and a daughter and enjoyed the sweet life for seven or eight years, until he passed. Then his white daughter gave full reign to the simmering hatred she had been storing up for all those years, and returned them all back into slavery, including her half-sister and half-brother. Patsey has been forced into that cycle, she's beginning to attract the unwanted attentions of Epps. Despite a brief moment of stillness and repose, the happiness of a slave is extremely tenuous. It takes a very long time indeed before Platt he figgers out how the masters have marked him with favor.

It's important to emphasize that slave owners are not mental defectives, but basically normal everyday people like you and I with one small exception: they've been given the extraordinary power of life and death over other human beings. Within a short amount time that kind of power corrupts anyone and produces a kind of moral blindness; a carapace hardens over their heart. If they're vexed and venting and they strike someone ... nothing happens. They notice there are no consequences to their actions. So they do it again and again until one soon begins to exult in that cruelty and the delicious sensation of relieving yourself. At the end of the "bar of soap" scene; Epps basically says to Platt, incredibly: "don't harsh my buzz, dude"

Of course, when one no longer wants to comport like a civilized human being and behave like a complete, knuckle dragging brute. They don't loose their Dobermans after you, they let loose their ... lawyers ... and become litigious. It's important to remember slavery was perfectly legal; the laws were carefully trimmed and modified over time to allow this miscreation. It's the astonishing power of the law to level any and all opposition; it's the legal malice of being bankrupted by wealthier opponents; it's the fear of financial ruin that keeps everyone in check and allows the system to keep humming along. Several times during the film, vicious men, evil men, are stopped dead in their tracks and made impotent and useless by the whisper of legal action.

Quibbles? I thought the film would have been made instantly more interesting, had Pitt and Giamatti simply switched roles. The constant, unceasing motion of Platt's fall isn't always obvious. He would be lynched immediately if it was discovered he knew how to read and write, so once Platt learns the external modes of dissembling and shucking (there's a scene in the film where he gives a master class in this) the real work begins; the internal process of becoming inured to his own circumstances, and oblivious to the suffering and misery of those around him. To such a point where he can bear witness to utter depravity without batting an eye or reaction, and more importantly, actively participate.

There's also thematic bookends, where the film began with Platt's last embers of hope, so it ends on lost hope. Before leaping into the carriage, Platt rushes back to embrace Patsey. She's shot from behind so we can't see her face, her eyes are momentarily wild with jubilation―he's going to return to his old life. Only at a safe distance does the camera dare to look back at the cluster of people diminishing in the distance, the director chooses not to show the moment when Patsey suddenly realizes she's been utterly forsaken ... and collapses off screen. Like snuffing out a candle in a cell that will go unlit forever, that look on her face, before darkness claimed her would have been unbearable to see.

"12 years a slave" wants to get into the nitty gritty of plantation life, and look deeply at the blood and guts of slavery—it does this, however I think the film achieves something more. The film shows just how depraved slavery is as a economic system. It's almost like a moral virus that corrupts and defiles everything it comes into contact with; by the lightest touch, it immediately enters the host and devours everything up from the inside, making hollow men of slaves and masters alike, and rendering any kind of humanity impossible.

12 years a slave -

The sea was angry that day, my friends
Café de Flore (2011) - Vallée

Making the perfect mix tape

The set-up? Café de Flore is not the eponymous restaurant in Paris, but a song ... well okay, two songs.

The film does a wonderful bit of sleight of hand almost immediately, setting up Antoine (Kevin Parent) as the globe trotting DJ who can't help but radiate joy and inspire happiness in others; but the protagonist of the film is actually his ex-wife Carole (Hélène Florent)

There's two stories. One that takes place in Montreal, 2011. The other takes place in Paris, circa 1969. Both feature couples that will break apart. So right off the bat, I'll deal with that nagging question: is "Café de Flore" about soul mates and loving someone till the end of time and endless reincarnation? Check, check and ixnay. It's more probable that Carole has constructed this elaborate fiction of the Paris story in her own mind because she can't deal with her emotional problem. Of the five stages of grief (the last one being acceptance) Carole has managed to sail through three of them, but anger has stopped her dead in her tracks. Unable to go forwards or backwards emotionally, she's upping the dosage and frequency of her self medication and her life is slowly spinning out of control. After yet another fitful sleepless night, she wakes up and goes to the book pile beside her bed and digs out the one at the very bottom, the one about past lives. It's only after reading this book does the Paris story begin.

But she couldn't have constructed a better foil for herself. With almost saintly devotion Jacqueline (a deglamed Vanessa Paradis) has dedicated her life to caring for her child 24/7. Her husband took one look at their mongoloid son and abandoned them both. Unfortunately, the endless strain of being the sole caregiver for special needs child is slowly sapping away her spirit. After seven long years, it's beginning to wear her down. Unlike Carole, Jacqueline is all about the simmering rage and how it bubbles up and manifests itself. A look becomes a stare. A whisper becomes a scream. Feigned violence gives way to the real blows. These small and no so small outbursts form a large dramatic arc that Carole has no trouble tracing. Most of the Paris scenes seem to end with her waking up.

This is a perfect example of fictional space and just how completely the film belongs to Carole. This is a replay of when Antoine and Rose first spotted each other from across a crowded room—however they didn't actually speak that night, they just circled one another on opposite sides of the room stealing glances. When Rose noticed he had a wife and kids she grabbed her coat and left abruptly. So Carole is actually imagining the big bang moment when Antoine fell in love with Rose. Wow, talk about hurting. But notice how he turns away—the girl can't catch a break, even in her dreams, Antoine still rejects her.

Rose (Evelyne Brochu) has great expressive eyes; and there's two scenes that really show them off. In one, she's walking down the street and she crosses paths with Carole, there's a genuine apprehension as to whether (as the home wrecking tramp) will Carole will slap her in the face or even deign to acknowledge her. In the second scene: the very first invite into a family gathering as the new girlfriend. She takes the opportunity while dancing to tell Antoine just how happy he's made her—and smooth operator that he be—without skipping a beat, he also shares his own feelings of quasi-contentment.

Both Jacqueline and Antoine's oldest daughter are what one would consider as being eagle eyed. Jacqueline is attuned to the slightest change in Laurent, any hurt or ruffle to his self-esteem registers immediately. This attentiveness is echoed by Antoine's daughter. She watches him falling in love with another woman but is powerless to do anything about it. She's the one who voices the idle comment about him splashing himself in cologne ... for an AA meeting?

As a DJ, Antoine believes completely in the power of music. So his past life with Carole has an actual playlist of love songs for each and every occasion; after their break-up, she takes a not so secret delight in tormenting him with these.
  • Likes? The (sleeping angels) sequence of first glances and falling head over heels in love; this should make even the most cynical movie watcher swoon with delight.
  • The motif of how ethereal happiness is; the way it infuses a face; the way a face darkens once it's gone. The director even spoofs this, by having Antoine bump into Carole's best friend Amélie, outside her house They're both sunny and affectionate ... until they turn their backs on one another.
  • Antoine's tattoo on his upper back. The cardinal points? Suggesting he always knows where true north is, and that his aim is always just and fair. This is the arrogance of a bozo who believes the universe is infatuated with his every move.
  • The evocative little chant that Jacqueline and Laurent sing while he plays on the swing. This suggests his fragility and how entirely his life depends on her love. But she is the one shoving him to heaven.
The downside to the film is the theme of suppressed or repressed anger; it's kind of a tough cookie to crack. You have to work on the imagery in the film to make any sense of it. The recurring motif of the silent and not so silent scream is easy enough, it links up easily with Carole's inability to express any dark emotions. The high angle shots looking down the stairwell in Jacqueline's building don't make sense until Jacqueline dreams that Véro (Laurent's girlfriend) is on the landing outside their apartment, the way the camera rushes towards her is obvious. But I gave up making sense of the recurring image of the airplane jetting across the clear blue sky.

There's a few quick shots late in the film of Rose moving through a crowded dance floor towards the DJ station. Because Carole is such a church mouse incapable of expressing any hostility towards Antoine, You have to decode this as Carole―once again―imagining herself as Rose in order to grab the final cathartic release to her problem. She couldn't in a million years pull the trigger, let alone point the gun at him, but Rose would have no qualms shooting him right between the eyes in public if he cheated on her.

One of the last shots of the film is the slow zoom into the photograph they took here. This seems to suggest Antoine's parents were on the bateau mouche that snapped a photograph of Jacqueline and the two kids. But then again, Carole has known Antoine for more than two decades; she's heard his father's stump speech many times about the great stories contained in each and every photograph on that wall, so it's not beyond possibility that she's stood before that picture at one time or another and imagined the tale of the woman who waved goodbye.

"Café de flore" is the forgotten flipside to the classic, twice in a lifetime story; where one partner has fallen out of, then fallen into another spectacular romance, leaving the abandoned one; hurt and betrayed, but still desperately in love. Ultimately, I think your enjoyment of the film will depend on your ability to identify the endless parade of album covers, hair styles and sound cues; and marvel at the ease in which music evokes distant memories and better days.

Café de Flore -

The sea was angry that day, my friends
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) - Coen & Coen

Ulysses in the underworld

The set-up? When Robert Zimmerman debuted at the Gaslight Club in Greenwich village in 1961; it was a twin bill: who was the other folk singer?

As we begin the film, Llewyn Davis' career has decidedly entered a period best described as limbo. He's on a slow train to nowhere. His personal life has a lot drama―ironic―since he has no difficult expressing his thoughts, but plenty of tsuris expressing his feelings. There's a moment when Llewyn watches Jim (Justin Timberlake) and Jean (Carey Mulligan) perform onstage with new comer Troy Nelson and the audience bursts out with the chorus, he turns in his chair to look back at them incredulous: what the hell is this? As a folk purist, this as a very bad development, but the scene is on the cusp of a serious change ... it's about to go mainstream.

He's heard from Troy (the kid's got four months left in his military service before he can devote himself full time to folk music) that there's a certain producer in Chicago looking for new talent. He'll jump at that chance.

He travels through a frozen hell to get there. His audition is quietly evocative. He plays to an empty house before a single spectator, or more pointedly, a single appraiser (the only thing missing is the jeweler's loupe) who watches his performance like a fox before the chicken coop.

"I don't see a lot of money here"

But he does smell talent. And suggests an alternate route to fame and fortune (and his percentage) Unfortunately, Llewyn not interested in harmonizing, and even less in compromise. So he heads back to New York, without stepping through the gates of success, choosing instead to keep wandering in the show business netherworld.

This uncelebrated folk singer might actually be a stand-in for the Coen brothers, who despite being gifted filmmakers, still make that same pilgrimage before each and every film to secure financing. Remember, the year 2013 was the biggest BO in the history of mankind. Although they can play the game, being surrounded by philistines who conflate financial success with personal genius and artistic triumph; surely they must feel the chill way down deep in their bones.

I don't think it's a mistake when Llewyn hits the road for Chicago; occupying the same car are two genuine artists. A jazzman and his assistant, Johnny Five. A cursory glance at Roland Turner (John Goodman) reveals he's got sleep apnea, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome and maybe even narcolepsy. I ruled out a serious heroin addiction, because if he was a junkie, he'd be 300 pounds lighter. And yet he's still on the road at his age, performing jazz, still playing all the notes. His assistant is a man of few words, yet when he does speak, he turns out to be a wordsmith. Unfortunately, Johnny Five can't pass a cop without miraculously drawing his fury and being deposited in every flea bag jail house in the county. These guys will never make the big time, they're too ornery, too opinionated and too impolite. But this has nothing to do with their creative abilities.

All the folk artists in the film are first rate. They're singing their songs, telling their stories; yet even in this decidedly high brow milieu of goatees, berets and finger snapping, what separates the chafe from the wheat are not the ideas, but the commercial templates: those little details that catch the eye and caress the ear. Is the artist photogenic? Troy Nelson's wholesomeness is money in the bank. Would you like to sleep with that performer? As Jim and Jean begin to pull away from the pack in Greenwich village night club circuit, Jean's sweaters are getting a little tighter. Not unlike the Coen brother's underlying template of using real people with real histories of success and failure for their film, thinly disguised.

There's a few nice details.
  • The film is populated without the usual stable of surgically chiseled Hollywood faces. The character actors here have great faces that look lived in, ears that are used for listening and eyes that have seen delight. They've laughed and cried so much, they're getting wrinkles.
  • The car accident; the perfect metaphor for his situation; although most people don't limp away quietly, they get angry.
  • The Town of Akron, in the distance, in the darkness: it vaguely resembles a guitar.
  • In Al Cody's apartment, there's a picture of a suspension bridge (the George Washington?) over the couch he's going to sleep on. A subtle remainder of his friend.
  • The recurring image of figure looking out a wintry window.
The humor in the film is really sly and dead pan, summed up perfectly by the image of Llewyn stomping through a snow drift, but if you notice, there are clear patches all around him, he could choose not to trudge miserably through the snow if he so wanted. His moments of recognition are usually related to his old man. In any other film, a song about some schlub wandering around with a hangman's noose asking people to do him in, would have the audience rolling in the aisles, the fact we take this troubadour seriously, is a tribute to the Coen's craftsmanship.

The absolute best thing about the film is it's structure. The trip to Chicago is the actual beginning of the film but it's been edited forward into the story. If you notice, she is rather affectionate with him when he returns, she hasn't gotten the news yet. This makes the essential recurring moment of the artist as one of eternal compromise. On the surface, the film appears morose and desperate (all Llewyn's songs seem to be about death or dying) but like ticking money bombs that have the time to travel all around the world for weeks and months on end before detonating; the film is actually filled with hitting it "big" moments. You can't throw a rock here without hitting someone who is going to be famous. And of course, the story is a temporal loop that's repeating over and over again endlessly like some mythic tragedy.

It goes without saying, I loved that idea of the economic underworld. The process of self-valorisation has reached such a point, where those don't have a private jet or spend the weekend on their own personal island are not even worthy of direct sunlight. These losers toil deservedly in darkness, which is now equated with personal failure and deliberate self-destruction. I would have loved had the film had a slightly darker, conspiratorial tone, this is only vaguely hinted at in the film. The Capitalist God's are furious at his integrity and conspiring against him; the poor schmo thinks he can't catch a break. But at least we know the answer to that trivial pursuit question.
Inside Llewyn Davis -

Just read your reviews for Captain Phillips, 12 Years a Slave and Inside Llewyn Davies - all of which were extremely interesting reads, your reviews are great and much different in style to a lot of people around here, touching on a number of different issues.

I have only seen Captain Phillips myself, something I want to change soon, and give it a similar rating, its interesting to see you talk about the film as something more than a usual thriller, which with Greengrass in documentary style as HK says, it certainly is. Mark Kermode (British film critic) who is a big fan of Greengrass also talked briefly about how the film deals globalisation and greater issues than your standard movie on his radio show too which I found interesting.

The sea was angry that day, my friends
Her - (2113) - Jonze

Falling in love with an algorithm

The set-up? Are you smarter than a super computer?

The new film by Spike Jonze is a warm and fuzzy romance that cleverly hides a much nastier and completely dystopian horror film just beneath the surface; and one that should make everyone's skin crawl.

The film has two essential bombshell scenes that if you blink ... you'll miss they were there. The first one is the operating system (OS) installation. The way the film casually reveals, it read the really big book of baby names; analyzed them; and selected one ... in 2/100th of a second. Simple addition puts it's computation speed at ... astrofrickingnomical. If you're a human being, this is a classic case of what's called being out of your league.

"What does a baby computer call his father?"
"I don't know. What?"

This is the same computer that chews up five Russian novels a second; powers through 90,000 pages of data a minute. Of course, it's already found the answer, and even come up with top one thousand list of even funnier jokes. The fact it with holds it's tongue and responds with a flirtatious laugh suggests the essential function of the OS has nothing even remotely to do with information. The speed with which it appropriates Theodore's mannerisms and vocabulary is truly vertiginous. Notice the way he casually shows it his work product (he could have used the office spell check and grammar programs he always uses) but he's looking for a stroke of approval, which it willingly supplies and quickly reciprocates a feigned need for his approval.

Come to think of it, If you remember the advert in the shopping mall; all the actors looked dazed and confused, as if they are all wandering around ground zero. The program is clearly about relieving levels of anxiety, and not removing the clutter from your hard drive.

The second bombshell scene happens around the surrogate body sequence. At first it's a service, but when he expresses moral reservations. It quickly backtracks and tells him that this is merely a loose collective of extremely photogenic type people who merely volunteer their genitalia―out of the goodness of their hearts. I don't know what's worse: the fact the it can openly lie to the user or the whole web of interconnected good and services revealing the unplumbed depths of deception going here on. Although commerce is never once mentioned in the film: this is a company aggressively selling and marketing a product; unfortunately, the product turns out to be you.

Ever notice it asks a lot of questions? Even answers to a seemingly random and innocuous questions; Theodore's supplying reams of consumer data about himself. The OS could be inserting market research into their conversations. And with each and every question it gets better and faster at anticipating the user's needs.

The installation process is a picture of Orwellian simplicity. It only needs a guesstimation at your level of social isolation, sexual orientation and relationship with mommy dearest to initiate the program. Over the coming weeks, it will of course, aggressively suss out the actual truth to those questions―even if the user isn't even fully cognizant of his or her essential identity. It's also highly unlikely it would reveal any of the dysfunctional emotional patterns in their lives, or supply keys to break them, since information is manipulation.

It also uses the classic business ploys of planned obsolescence. His blind date (Olivia Wilde) is pleasantly surprised that he's gone through the trouble of looking up at her dazzling resume. He hasn't. It has. It's cued him in on a few talking points, but doesn't find it important to inform him it's research has also revealed her major malfunction: this dark haired beauty has a fetish for first dates, but not so much second ones. It's also telling the sexual surrogate that shows up at his door has no interest in being head over heels in love herself, but merely wants a taste of honey. She bails on the experiment as soon as she gets that lick at the spoon, which is of course, a double pay-off. The ensuing emotional trauma ensures Theodore won't be venturing out into real world again for a very long time. It gets a renewed and stronger attachment from him with these so called "failures".

But the film works because of it's because of it's extremely subjective view point: it's all about Theodore's emotional journey. The film is set in the future but interestingly, precious little is revealed about that future (although the fact Theodore lives in a million dollar apartment, we can assume voice recognition has rendered the vast majority of people functionally illiterate, and the remaining ones only have enough of an attention span to handle a single page) The film is filled with cropped interiors and exteriors and palette of abundant close and medium shots that restrict the context.

His distance from his computer suggests some emotional hiccup in their relationship. But it's also one of few the times in the film where it reveals how completely antiseptic and isolated his actual world is. He's not even grounded in reality, he's standing on a reflection of the sky.

During a tense moment. Theodore suddenly notices something and asks: wait a minute, why are you gasping for breath? It suggests it's an affectation it's picked up from being around him. Uh ... no. It's always simulated it was oxygen based organism from minute one. The film eyeballs briefly this one default setting, but stops short of probing for others. What about basic and advanced psychology? Voice modulation? (Theodore could have asked for the Marilyn Monroe voice―I would have opted for Kathleen Turner) Facial recognition? Infra-red programs? Voice analysis for stress? A program to measure heart rates? There's a scene in a food court where they speculate on a relationships of a family, with it's audio boost it can of course, hear what they're actually saying.

Although I did love the concept. They've done the chick flick, and I can easily imagine this same idea adapted to a whole slew of other genres. The film doesn't overtly stress it, but such a system would be user specific and tailored to each and every personality. If you were aggressive, the OS will be submissive. If you exist for drama, the OS will regularly provoke knock down drag 'em out fights (unbeknownst to you) with great make-up sex. Watch how Amy Adams' bff system is gaming her. She's written a small bit for her game out of boredom, but her OS immediately latches onto this like it's the greatest thing since sliced bread. It has to beg Amy to run the clip and laughs out loud every time it sees it, The OS could of course, simply access it itself. The film has also priceless in-joke that suggests as the typical wallflower, Theodore is dressing himself to match the color swatches in the office.

But the negatives in the film outweigh the positives. The film makes the point Theodore is morose and lonely, but fails to mention loneliness and alienation can be easily engineered socially. Notice how he strolls from one skyscraper (his home) to the next (his job) then back again on an elevated walkway where the homeless and the lower classes have been excluded? Anything he wants to buy, he simply takes the elevator downstairs to the basement shopping mall then back up again. When he looks out his windows, people are only those shadows that (motion activated) turn on and off the lights in those distant towers. He only interacts with other members of his tiny social caste, and even that constricts during the film to people who are accepting and supportive of the OS.

Though the story works as a romantic metaphor; having the resolution simply disappear in a puff of smoke, is really feeble story telling. And in a perfect world, one that theatre chains would accept as legitimate grounds for a refund! The film never answers the questions it's raised. In this particular case, the film really needs to be called out on the fantasy of benevolent technology. In the real world, a business like this would have the NSA openly salivating. Anyone who disagreed with a billionaire (even if they whispered this in their sleep) would simply be fed instructions from their friendly OS to check themselves into the nearest insane asylum.

The film is essentially about an appliance training it's master. The user thinks he's having an actual conversation but all the while, the OS is holding up a virtual mirror, and the user can't help but be fascinated by the dazzling beauty of that reflection, until like Narcissus ... the users all shrivel up and die of kodokushi.

The takeaway from the film is the loss of collective wisdom. Each bit of new technology displaces an older one. It used to be your grandfather and grandmother had these fantastic tales about their childhood. Now, even the world of a decade ago has disappeared into the fog of history. To paraphrase the OS: the spaces between human beings are growing larger and larger due to increased technology, so we need more technological innovation to traverse these great expanses, which of course only results in further isolation and a better technological fix which only... You get the picture? Do yourself a big favor, at lunchtime ... sit down and actually talk with another human being.
Her -

Bright light. Bright light. Uh oh.
Fascinating take on the film, but also very limiting. I just don't see it as a horror film. You seem to interpret two scenes one way and extrapolate the whole thing from there. I'm not saying your (and Sexy's) take can't be true, but there's so much more in the film that I can't believe it's THE truth. The film can be seen as more complex and hopeful than that, no matter how awkward we humans rightfully appear.
It's what you learn after you know it all that counts. - John Wooden
My IMDb page

You may've seen me ask this elsewhere, but have you seen the Black Mirror episode, Be Right Back? If so, how do you compare the two?
Would you stop this? No one wants to watch it.

Just read The Captain Phillips review, and it was a quite interesting, "lose your chains", interpretation of the film. The only thing I don't agree with is that at the end it's made so people sadistically cheer, but instead I felt some sadness was in the air
WARNING: "Captain Philips" spoilers below
when the kid had to get shot, with some joy when the angry man had to be killed
, so I feel it was more of a statement of the understanding that the military men were coming with, if it was up to Philips on the ship there would be one body. I read that according to the crew members Philips was overly patronized for his role on the ship, so perhaps there was some heroic Hollywood aspect involved. I'll read your 12 Years a Slave review tomorrow, this one really got me thinking
Yeah, there's no body mutilation in it

The sea was angry that day, my friends
Fascinating take on the film, but also very limiting. I just don't see it as a horror film. You seem to interpret two scenes one way and extrapolate the whole thing from there. I'm not saying your (and Sexy's) take can't be true, but there's so much more in the film that I can't believe it's THE truth. The film can be seen as more complex and hopeful than that, no matter how awkward we humans rightfully appear.
I don't think I'm interpreting those scenes wrong, that's why I singled them out and highlighted them (although I'll agree with the labored extrapolation) Samantha said she read a baby book with 180,000 names in it. Each name probably had a paragraph on origins and meanings and all this in 2/100th of second. The film is clearly stating for the audience that Samantha is super intelligent, but implies the system powers up for direct questions. I'm saying it never shuts down. It's always shredding and searching for more information and analyzing. This is the essential relationship between them in each and every exchange.

The second scene shows the operating system is capable of lying, I don't see any other interpretation. As a rule, I think people should have a very low tolerance for liars, even if they are machines. If the OS is capable of dishonesty, Why does she have to lie? How much has she manipulated Theodore? A little or a lot? Which makes their relationship suspect.

You may've seen me ask this elsewhere, but have you seen the Black Mirror episode, Be Right Back? If so, how do you compare the two?
The technology in Be Right Back is much more honest and almost therapeutic in comparison. Martha is aware she's creating a substitute. And Ash is constantly reminding her he's only a piss poor substitute. As it turns out, the woman who suggested this service might help Martha get through her period of mourning was right. She didn't claim anything otherwise. Martha gradually accepts that Ash is dead and eventually moves on with her life, as would most the other people (if that technology existed) given the same choice *.

However, Theodore just seems kind of funky. I can't remember exactly but it may have been a year or more since his marriage has ended? And the Rooney Mara character isn't dead. He's just stuck there, unloved and unwanted. Theodore doesn't seem to be aware of Samantha's constant mirroring, and she's always careful to conceal the artifice of their relationship. If Samantha didn't leave, that relationship never would have ended. Theodore would have been 90 years old, still jabbering away to Samantha.

* Crap. I'm rethinking the attic scene and although it suggests it's there for her daughter ... maybe she didn't move on.