Beirut

Beirut 2018 Directed by Brad Anderson

*No spoilers in this review*

I went to an advanced screening of this over the weekend and it was a packed house. After the film as we were filing out, one of the staff asked a patron if they enjoyed it. The older woman replied “well, I don’t think enjoy is quite the right word. It was very interesting but a bit confusing” and I think that’s a fair assessment of this densely packed political thriller.

Directed by the always visually reliable Brad Anderson, the screenplay is by Tony Gilroy who wrote the Bourne trilogy, Michael Collins and my favourite Star Wars film, Rogue One. There are some fairly difficult issues embedded in this period thriller and at first glance, it would be easy to dismiss it as just another example of western filmmakers using a Middle Eastern location for ethnic flavour and racial stereotyping but I think it offers more on deeper examination.

First and foremost, this is clearly a star vehicle for Jon Hamm (who I last saw and loved in Baby Driver) and he is wonderful as Mason Skiles, the alcoholic and grief stricken former political negotiator. It can’t be denied there are echoes of Don Draper here but I think Hamm pushes beyond that by virtue of Anderson’s direction, a lovingly crafted script and a charismatic performance from Hamm. Rosamund Pike is the perfect choice as his foil and she gives a fine and nuanced performance among a lot of boys as a CIA operative and Skiles’ handler.

The film opens in 1972 and after much calamity and personal heartbreak for Mason Skiles, the action forwards to 1982. The clichés abound (especially when the three characters representing US government interests are introduced), and I noticed some quite heavy symbolism at times – particularly around children playing in and around weapons and rubble and blatant disparities between privilege and poverty. At times I was reminded of films like the Bourne trilogy and even Syriana but ultimately it was an examination of one man in extreme crisis, seeking personal redemption.

Some of it is pretty clunky and (without giving anything away) I wasn’t really on board with the ending but it really is worth it for Jon Hamm’s fine performance. If you want to get the most out of this, it probably pays to have at least a passing knowledge of Middle Eastern history of the period, but at its heart, Beirut is looking at the political tragedy of the time through the lens of personal loss and the notion that terrorists are not born but made.

Beirut opens at the State Cinema, Elizabeth Street, North Hobart Thursday 26th July.

Visages Villages – Faces Places

Faces Places (originally released as Visages Villages) (2017) Directed by JR and Agnes Varda.

I saw this French language documentary a few weeks ago at the end of its run at the State Cinema in Hobart and I cannot get it out of my mind.

Agnes Varda is well known to me as the sole female director of the French New Wave but I confess I hadn’t heard of JR, Varda’s young co-director. Apparently JR is a French photographer and muralist and I must say, very engaging in front of the camera.

The documentary was shot over 18 months, with the two of them travelling around France in JR’s wonderful photo booth van, which also printed large format photographs. Their core idea was to create ephemeral black and white photographic art works that would eventually be worn away by the elements, depicting people of the area. These took the form of oversized images pasted on the exteriors of buildings, bridges, factories and even shipping containers.

I loved this film at many levels. A good deal of it was shot in rural France and there was a beauty beyond the idyllic pastoral scenery that Varda and JR managed to elicit from the people they spoke to. I confess I shed tears too when Jeanine, the last occupant of the condemned miners cottages, saw her two storey image on the outside of her home.

Perhaps the most poignant scenes for me were with Varda talking frankly with JR about growing old, losing her sight (the cornerstone of her art), and the friends and loved ones who have died. I felt these scenes are the spine of the film and despite the sombre feel, Varda has a sense of humour and clear zest for life that at times matches the much younger JR. There is also sadness, particularly when Varda talks about her husband who died some years ago and (without giving too much away) the manner in which she is treated by someone later in the film.

All in all, this is a quiet yet spectacular and very moving documentary, which addresses questions about ageing, being completely in the moment and engaging fully in a life well lived. It’s stayed with me for weeks and although it’s only early days, I think come December it’ll be in my best films of  2018. I recommend it to anyone who has a beating heart.

mother! – Day 2 NaBloPoMo 2017

mother! (2017). Directed by Darren Aronofsky.

I have been a fan of Aronofsky’s films since his low-budget first feature Pi (1998) and I’m one of the few people I know who actually liked Noah (2014), despite Russell Crowe and Ray Winstone’s macho posturing. (The key with Noah in my opinion, is to look at it as a reimagining of a mythological text, rather than a straight retelling of the biblical story).

It should come as no surprise then that I really enjoyed mother! though it took me quite a while to process it. I saw this at my local, the State Cinema in North Hobart about a month ago and I think it must be the most divisive film of 2017.

This is an intense experience despite the very simple set up. It becomes a fast-paced drama very quickly and I found it hard at times to keep up, which I suspect is Aronofsky’s aim. Right from the outset, I felt a sense of claustrophobia, exacerbated by the camera which sits on or very close to Jennifer Lawrence for the entire film. Lawrence is sensational by the way, and Javier Bardem as her writer husband matches her. Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer are wonderful and the brief scene with real-life brothers, Brian and Domhnall Gleeson as their sons, is explosive and excellent.

Without spoiling the film, to me this is a psychological drama and a magical realism allegory. There is little here that is straightforward or easy watching, it isn’t a film where I could leave my brain at the door and just sit back and be entertained, something I love to do sometimes too. Of course, there are multiple ways to read a film, and I’m very keen to see this again when it comes out on DVD.

It’s no surprise to me that many people really disliked mother! Brave, innovative storytelling in cinema isn’t safe – it takes risks. And while this film doesn’t work all of the time in ways I enjoyed, I love it for having that bravery to take chances.

I found mother! triggered some things in me that required careful processing. Though it was uncomfortable, I feel ultimately a little wiser about my own foibles, a little richer for the experience. And ultimately, the film has stayed with me in a very enjoyable way. In my opinion, these are some of the many things art is supposed to do.

Rules of Conduct – A Rant

It was a damp Sunday afternoon, so I decided to go and see Baby Driver today at the lovely State Cinema in North Hobart. I’ll write a review about it in the next few days when I’ve had a chance to think about the film a little more but suffice it to say, I loved the music, the performances and the incredible editing. I’m just not certain about the ending – but I’ll talk about that soon.

What I want to discuss today are that unspoken guidelines that I’ve lived by all my life, the core rules of conduct in movie-going – that is to say, one is always silent while the movie is playing! The only exception is laughter. I’ve been heartened to see that people like Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo actively encourage this through their podcast but sometimes I wonder if it’s just because they’re a similar vintage to me and we’re just showing our age.

For those of you who are interested, here’s The Moviegoers’ Code of Conduct  from the Wittertainment wiki. Alternatively, Kermode and Mayo made this short video version a few years ago, which is recommended and very entertaining.

I grew up in a movie-loving, very cine-literate household, where both my father and older brother had their projectionist’s licence so trips to the cinema were our regular special event, and even when watching movies at home, the rules of conduct would be enforced. Even whispered conversations with my sister were discouraged during movies and I remember us being given oranges and a hand towel to take to the Saturday matinee because it made less noise. I do recall seeing my mother and father snogging once on a trip to the pictures, something they used to do when they were “courting” but never to the disruption of anyone else’s viewing.

Well, this afternoon, my friend and I got a coffee (in a china mug – not a disposable cup ❤ ) along with our tickets, wandered downstairs 10 minutes before the session started and selected a seat in the half full cinema and drank our coffee in relative peace before the feature started. Just as the trailers started, an older couple (maybe 60s) came in and noisily eased past the couple behind me. For the purposes of this blog, I’m calling him Mr Ignorant.

First, what I can only imagine was a biscuit packet came out, and a loud crunching and crackling. Then he started. Mr Ignorant talked all the way through the trailers, oohing and ahing at Charlize Theron and James McAvoy in Atomic Blonde, as well as Dunkirk and I found myself gripping the seat, hoping he was just getting it out of his system before the main feature started.

Alas, this was not to be.

Unfortunately, he kept up a near constant stream of chatter through the opening scene and drove me almost to distraction before the movie had even really begun. In an effort to stem the tide before the film really got going, I turned, and in the darkness asked in a loud voice “will you please stop talking?” Now, any of you who know me in the real world will know I have no trouble making myself heard, something to do with all that vocal training I’m sure! He stopped mid-sentence, almost affronted there was anyone else in the cinema and seemed to contain himself for the next scene.

Then the biscuit packet came out again. And the chatter started again. And I leaned in closer to my movie companion, who fortunately knows me well enough to not be freaked out by such behaviour!

So, with my head as far away from Mr and Mrs Ignorant as possible, I tried to lose myself in Baby’s shenanigans, only to be brought back again and again by the sheer ignorance of particularly the man behind me and that damned biscuit packet. I feel I need to go back and see the film again, without interruptions.

As soon as the film finished, they got up very noisily and left, making no illusion about their disdain towards me. Then, as the lights went up, two other patrons came over and thanked me for speaking up. They said they wanted to but felt they couldn’t.

But they should – we all should.

In fact, I should’ve gone out and found an usher and complained about Mr Ignorant. The only reason I didn’t is I’ve been waiting to see this film for a few weeks and didn’t want to miss a frame – or cause any more disruption to my fellow cinema patrons.

What do you think?

In the meantime, here’s a lovely, calming photo of some lovely, calming clouds. Take care friends and remember the Rules of Conduct next time you go to the cinema ❤