The Tragedy of Macbeth

Absolutely exquisite.

Joel Coen adapts the Shakespeare play for the screen, with a stellar cast and resplendent cinematography. With spartan yet evocative set design, filmed in black-and-white, light is used not only to frame the story, but transform scenes. In my post on French Review, I criticised Wes Anderson’s use of visual symmetry as hollow, whereas Macbeth shows us the opposite of that. The archways, the pillars, the bowed heads, all create and convey meaning. On a set so bare, its geometry communicates the relations of characters to one another, and evokes the thematic underpinnings of a scene.

I loved the bird motif being brought to the fore. The crows of the dead coming with the bloody and portentous entrance of Macbeth, the bird as familiar of the witch, the owl shriek which announces King Duncan’s death in the night. Repeated is the psychopompotic heraldry of birds, and their stark contrasting forms against the white day or black sky.

Kathryn Hunter has to be given the highest of praise for her performance as the witches. Gollum-esque, contorted, gibbering, and altogether unnerving, she is just a stunning presence on screen. Frances McDormand’s Lady Macbeth also is to be commended, with her seeming to regard warily this man, who had to be chided into one tactical killing, but who now becomes someone who embraces the wholesale slaughter of women and babes. Denzel Washington’s Macbeth I found a bit patchy, ending strong at the climax, but a little too throw-away in his delivery at the beginning. I dunno, judge for yourself.

Really excellent, what a film.

Titane

What the fuck was that?

Titane is a film that will leave you asking the question, what did I just see? If I had to say what it’s about, if I had to put it into words, I’d say that a psychopath, who sees themselves more mechanical than human, falls pregnant by a Chevrolet, and to escape capture for a killing spree, poses as the long-lost son of a steroid-addicted firefighter captain. You know, the classic tale.

So is it sci-fi? Well, falling pregnant by a car does probably qualify as low-end sci-fi technically. Is it a crime thriller? Well, it starts with a murder spree and follows the killer’s run from the law. Is it a comedy? It’s certainly filled with dark humour and moments that will make you laugh out loud. Is it a horror? It is definitely full of the madness and mayhem you’d expect from a horror. So what is it? I guess I’d say reproductive body horror with elements of splatstick.

Because you see everything from the perspective of the main character, Alexi, you see the others through her kinda contempt, their moments of emotion and vulnerability are played as comical, because she as a psychopath finds them funny. So it did make me wonder at first if this whole ‘pregnant by a car’ thing was maybe just in her head. But as the film goes on, it makes it very clear that all of this is actually happening.

Strangely, the car pregnancy actually manages to feel like just another practical element of this world, while the central conundrum for Alexi is that she actually grows attached to the man whose son she is impersonating. For a half-human psychopath, her view of the most bizarre thing in this film is the unexpected bond she begins to share with another human being.

Starts with a lot of nudity and violence, so expect that right out the gate. Apparently the film has been inspiring a lot of fainting in cinemas, this happened in our showing, so I guess there’s truth to that it. It certainly was enough to make an entire audience in Glasgow go, “OOOWWW!”

Gotta say, to me, Titane felt like a very queer horror. I mean, it starts from the character’s viewpoint that sees objectophilia as normal, and treats a traditional family bond as bizarre. The main character has sexual encounters with both men and women before murdering them. She spends the majority of the film binding down her breasts and living as a man. Her dance on top of the fire truck is very queer. I mean, not saying it’s all not problematic – it’s horror so of course it’s gonna be problematic as fuck – but it comes off as a very queer horror.

One that screams cult favourite.

If you like this…

Flee

An intimate and powerful film, Flee shows the life of Amin, a gay Afghani refugee who fled to Denmark during the Afghan Civil War in the 90s.

Mixing animation and archival footage, it is a memoir of Amin’s life up until he finds refuge. Simultaneously, it has contemporary scenes where Amin and the filmmaker discuss what he feels comfortable talking about and what he wants to get from their work together. In these scenes you get to see Amin with his Danish partner Kasper, and get hints of how his journey has affected him even now.

You come to a refugee story thinking you know what the hard parts are going to be, the travel across the sea, dodging the police. But it’s the things that you don’t consider that leave the lasting mark. How Amin has to say or do anything to get to Denmark, but once he’s there, he’s left with all these fractured narratives, all these stories he’s had to tell to survive, and how hard that is to assimilate back into a whole. This film is the first time he has ever told the true complete story of his journey. He’s lived with lies his entire adult life because there is a constant sense of insecurity, that anything he’s said in the past can be used to destroy his life now.

At heart this is a film about a family trying to survive, how they try to save one another, and somehow stay together despite being miles apart. Really moving.

Petit Maman

Petite Maman is a quiet, gentle film about childhood understanding of grief and mortality. It is about Nelly, who is 8-years-old and has just lost her beloved grandmother. She is very close to her own Mum, Marion, and goes with her to her grandmother’s family home to help clear it out. While playing in the woods nearby, she encounters her own mother, Marion, at 8-years-old, and follows her home to see her grandmother as a young woman.

The magic is very unobtrusive, and accepted readily without comment by Nelly, with a child’s practicality of seeing is believing. The 8-year-old Marion is worried because she is going into hospital soon for an operation, and there is a wordless, inarticulate anxiety for her. Nelly distracts her with play, and Marion comforts Nelly for her loss in the same way.

There is a wealth of unspoken tenderness about the whole film. Of Nelly getting one last chance to fill in a crossword with her grandma, and tell her goodbye properly. Of Marion’s awareness of her own mortality and her mother’s. Of the closeness of mother and daughter playing out in a unique way with them both as kids.

Quietly and understatedly beautiful.

Paris, 13th District

Paris, 13th District is a film about a fuckboy and various women he meets. The characters feels very much like twenty-somethings, although the only time I can recall anyone mentioning their age it was in their early 30s. Anyway, you know that thing in your 20s where you’re flatmates and coworkers and friends and lovers, and frequently some combination of all four, that’s this film.

Fuckboy Camille shows up on Emilie’s doorstep looking for a flat, and kinda meets his match. They share a passionate physical affair, before tapering off into resentful flatmates. Emilie is every bit up to Camille’s level of shitbaggery, trying to sabotage his new relationship with co-worker Stephanie. When he finally moves out, he flings in her face that she has obviously fallen in love with him, while he hasn’t with her. She tells him to go fuck himself.

Meanwhile Nora tries to start back at uni as mature student. However the risque outfit she wears to a Fresher’s party has her mistaken for famous porn actress Amber Sweet (which just set off in my head the song from Repo! The Genetic Opera “Amber Sweet is addicted to the knife! Addicted to the knife? Addicted to the knife!”) and she is roundly bullied out of uni. To get some kind of closure on this trauma, she goes online and talks to the actual Amber Sweet, asking her how she copes with that level of constant abuse. This strikes off an unlikely friendship between them.

As fuckboy Camille takes up a part-time job, he ends up hiring Nora. Her need to set firm professional boundaries, after everything she’s just been through, poses an intriguing challenge for him, and he begins to play a long-game for her affections. However, this means he isn’t about to get his dick wet anytime soon, so he calls up Emilie again, hoping to lift and lay her for his own needs in complete disregard for what he openly acknowledges is her love for him. Emilile, keen to prove she is over Camille and that he means nothing to her, meets him for a hook-up, and they begin to hang out together as friends.

The last act just reeks of 20-something mess as all relationships progress at once, Camille manages to break through Nora’s exterior to become her lover, while simultaneously developing a deeper relationship with Emilie, and Nora’s online friendship with Amber Sweet has become a sincere romance.

Shagfest of the emotionally incompetent. Entertaining.

Ali and Ava

Ali and Ava is about ordinary people falling in love.

To be honest, it’s actually weird to see a romance set in such realism. No one in this is a vampire, or a model, or a sexually twisted billionaire. In this movie, love looks like what it looks like for most of us, meeting someone, getting to know them, figuring out if it’s a good idea to go further. Instead of rising crescendoes as characters stand in the rain, all that emotion is contained within the same mundane constraints of needing to get yourself to work or keep the house tidy.

Ava is a good example of this. She is a loving, family-orientated, middle-aged grandmother, who works with kids at the local school as a classroom assistant. Everyone knows someone like Ava, who just live for their kids. And yet, this woman, with her rings reading Mum, and the tattoo of a swallow across her breast, living in a council house with her teenage boy and his new baby, when have you ever seen a woman like that depicted on screen with anything other than contempt, or as a punchline? Much less as a romantic lead.

Ava and Ali meet when he drives a friend’s kid to school, and offers to run Ava down the road at hometime when it’s pelting rain. It’s crazy how falling in love never really changes with age. They talk and make each other laugh, and share what music they like and mess about. Watching Ava and Ali sing to their tunes at the top of their voices in the livingroom, it just makes your heart swell to see love looking so familiar.

The course of true love never did run smooth though, and for Ali and Ava this takes the form of family. Ali has not fully extricated himself practically or emotionally from his soon-to-be ex-wife. Ava has not really prepared her family for her moving on from the memory of their father. Both are keeping illusions going for their family that they are reticent to shatter. And it is whether they are willing to take the risk of disappointing those closest to them that proves the challenge for their nascent relationship.

Lovely story celebrating the love and strength of ordinary folk.

The Phantom of the Open

Ok, so we all know that I’m not a sports fan, but golf in particular draws my ire as a racist, sexist, elitist game, played almost exclusively by wankers who have a picture of an Audi as their profile photo on Tinder. So I very nearly didn’t go see this movie, which would have been a tremendous shame, because it is excellent.

The Phantom of the Open is about Maurice Flintcroft, a working man from Barrow-in-Furness who, when facing the possibility of redundancy at nearly 50, decides to take a new career as a professional golfer. Armed with more optimism and moxie than awareness of the field he’s entering, he manages to sign up for the British Open. There he gains international fame for playing the worst round of golf in the history of the tournament.

Maurice’s struggle to get a toehold in a career, which is far more excluded to him due to class than ability, is a reflection of the times it’s set in. As the 70s turn into the 80s, and Thatcherism is on the rise, the narrative of being up-wardly mobile, that ambition will replace class boundaries to produce a new era of opportunity in Britain, is satirised in Maurice’s character. It not only is untrue, but requires a great deal of naivety to even believe.

But conversely, everything in Maurice’s life that is positive belongs to the previous era, where community and solidarity were sources of support. The heart of this film is Maurice’s family. The support and love they give him is only a reflection of the support and love he gives them. So often in films about a man pursuing his ambition, his wife or kids are reduced to just cheerleaders from the sidelines, and there is this icky subtext that this is what a family is for, to further a man’s potential and help fulfil his wants in life. The Phantom of the Open is a great example of how to tell that kind of story right. Throughout the film, both before and during his golfing hijinks, Maurice continuously encourages and supports other family members pursue their dreams. He continually gives words of encouragement to his twin boys who pursue a disco dancing career, and his other boy becomes a manager and engineer, which Maurice shows pride in. Scenes are full of little things, like his wife’s love of acting and involvement in a local community theatre, and Maurice is shown staying up late at night sewing costumes. The story of the film might be about his golfing career, but Maurice’s story is about his family.

Which is why it took me so long to write this review, because, while I’m sure the filmmaker hoped people would find this heartwarming, I doubt he expected to reduce me to tears quite so spectacularly. I was howling greeting through this film, because the character of Maurice so reminded me of my grampas. They just so brought to life what a precious treasure a good man is to his family.

Shot with more than a little whimsy, The Phantom of the Open is funny, inspiring, and heartwarming. A lovely film to spend an evening watching.

If you like this…

The Power of the Dog

Ok, I lu-huve Jane Campion. I was hoping this would deliver the promise her name brings, and it is so sumptuous, the cinematography, the score.

I was a little hesitant about seeing Benedict Cumberbatch as a cowboy. I had dreads about a twangy accent and this pale, cat-faced thespian trying to embody a rugged steerhand. At some point you become too famous, it gets in the way. Instead of folk saying, “Benedict Cumberbatch was great in this!”, people just spend the movie going, “Look, it’s Benedict Cumberbatch.” Also it doesn’t help that my eye wanders over him rakingly, hoping I might leave scratches down his back with just my gaze. He’s fully nude in this, and we do at one point catch just a smidge of dong. So my hesitancy is as much based on my inability to suppress my dick as anything else.

The good news is, the Cumbersnatch does carry it at the end of the day. Eventually your eye stops catching on him, and he settles into being Phil, this absolute bastard rancher. His body is lean and muscular, his face dirty, gritty with beard, his expression cruel and mocking, closed off and swiping out. He’s just mean. He seems mean from his first breath in the morning to his last utterance at night. A full glass of mean with an endless supply to refill.

He strides into this story, cursing and sneering at his brother. He makes fun of a lisping boy, the son of his old, departed friend, Bronco Henry, and reduces the boy’s mother to tears. He has a nasty, ruinous quality to the small kindnesses and beauties of life. He is contemptuous of anything more feminine or comforting than his hypermasculine way of life. This extends even to his brother, a portly, be-suited, social climber who is ultimately harmless.

His brother commits the cardinal sin of loneliness, and need for love, and marries the widow. Phil is outraged, and feels fierce betrayal, and barely contained vengeance. His brother, already soft-bodied, a dandy and fool, now brings in this whimpering wretch, to live in *his* house, come between him and *his* brother. From almost the first moment, you can see his mouth pull down in a cruel twist, and then something funny occurs to him, and you can see some mean thought has entered his mind about what to do about it.

He casts his shadow over every corner of the house, so she never feels welcome, never feels safe. She’ll think she’s alone, then hear a sharp whistle. He taunts her attempts to live up to the higher status her marriage has given her. He makes her nervous and self-conscious. It reminds me of The October Game by Ray Bradbury, where the narrator follows his wife from room to room, just because he knows his presence makes her uncomfortable, and if he does it long enough, he will reduce her to tears.

About halfway through the film, the son discovers a stash Phil has hidden of Bronco Henry’s things. From them, there was clearly a sexual and romantic relationship between Phil and Bronco. Phil no doubt blames his widow for his suicide, his son too, the whole 2.5 kids dynamic that kept Bronco from him, and ultimately killed him. Not only has she taken his lover from him, but his brother now too. And his ceaseless cruelty becomes understandable.

It is not immediately apparent if the boy has understood the significance of what he’s seen, or if Phil, who catches him, realises just how much he’s seen, but from then on Phil makes an effort to mend their relationship, and treat him as a nephew. He teaches him how to ride, and starts making a rawhide rope for him.

I can’t explain to you, how this story, which is quiet, and slow, and sparse in actual ‘events’ just burns with unbearable tension. The whole movie you are waiting for the other shoe to drop. Because Phil is so clearly a man of repressed passions and barely contained violence. So it’s almost more dreadful when he befriends the boy, because you are just waiting for where the horror will come. Will he teach him how to ride, so he can take him out country and break his neck, make it look like a fall from the horse? Will he try to turn him against his mother, so she is completely isolated? Maybe get him to commit her as her secret alcoholism gets worse? You just know, that despite the lack of outright confrontation, something in this situation is going to have to give.

All that said, it is somewhat a regressive story. After all, it’s about how a nasty and jealous homo gets in the way of the hetero family living happily ever after.

But for me, it was just beautiful.

And definitely one you are gonna wanna watch if you are into leather. From the sensual saddle polishing to the erotic cigarette sharing. Thumbs up.

The French Dispatch

It’s a Wes Anderson movie, aye?

I know some people cream themselves over Wes Anderson, but I very much like his movies on a case by case basis. While people laud their iconic look, this is one of them that’s a triumph of style over substance. That’s fine if you like his style, but I find it kinda hollow.

The French Dispatch is an anthology of three short stories bookended by a wrap around tale. They have humour, romance, and action. And a cavalcade of stars that looks like a clown car emptied into rehearsals. Everyone’s very good and it’s all very Wes Anderson.

The only thing I can genuinely recommend it for is a quick flash of Timothee Chalamet in the scud.

Great Freedom

Great Freedom is a moving, heartbreaking journey of one man’s life through the prison system, as a 175 convict.

Hans is a convicted homosexual. He comes to prison straight from the concentration camps. Not only were queer men sent to die in the camps, but after the war, survivors were sent back to prison, since, you know, a camp isn’t a prison, so they still have to serve out the rest of their sentence. Hans comes as a half-starved and jittery inmate in the 1940s, and we see him return again the 50s and 60s, each time more confident in his surroundings, more institutionalised. He spends his whole life a crime.

Viktor is his first cellmate, a brutish, homophobic lifer. The initial hostility and aggro settles into begrudging respect, after Viktor offers to cover up his camp tattoo. As Hans cycles in and out of jail, Viktor is the one constant. Although an unlikely pairing, theirs becomes a lifelong friendship.

In some ways, it shows that even a hardened homophobe cannot be as brutal as the systematic regimes of oppression. Viktor is never fully freed of some of his prejudices but he sees the humanity of the other man, he can feel sympathy and compassion in a system that never can.

And this film is both a condemnation of the horrific treatment of gay men in the very recent past, and an ode to their inspiring survival. Because despite everything Hans suffers, he remains kind, he remains unashamed, and he remains capable of love. In some ways this film is about love, how it can be passionate and sexual, how it can be romantic and tender, and how it can be the quiet realisation you cannot live without another.