MOVIES – Carnage

Roman Polanski’s “Carnage” is his take of Yazmina Riza’s play, “God of Carnage” which I saw a few years ago on Broadway with James Galdolfini, Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis and Marcia Gay Harden. The action centers around the get together of two couples who meet to sort out a small incident between their sons. It’s all very polite and civilized. Zach Cowan (son of Alan – Christopher Waltz- and Nancy – Kate Winslet) has hit Ethan Longstreet (son of Michael – John C Reilly – and Penelope – Jodie Foster) with a stick, breaking a tooth.

Soon, sensible, civilized manners collapse into fighting, screaming and near hysteria.

The movie starts with a nice discussion of wrong and right. It’s a seemingly open and shut discussion.  But it doesn’t take long for the glue of polite behavior to become unstuck as the simple allocation of blame becomes muddled. The truths that emerge (of the fight between the boys, one of whom is played by Polanski’s son, and their adult avatars) reveal nastier realities of misogny, racism, family collapse and social callousness.

It’s as though polite behavior is just a very fragile veneer that threatenes to disintegrate at any moment.

Christopher Waltz brings his own brand of patrician nastiness, that stands out amidst this master class of acting.

Polanski keeps the action tight, almost claustrophobic. He shoots from angles that make the elegant living room feel as constricted as the conventions of behavior the couples feel they must escape; it brings the audience in very close to the action. You’re almost there, in touching distance of the players.

But, lest you feel this is just an intense melodrama, let me reassure you, much of it is just hysterically funny. We the audience are voyeurs of an comedic disintegration that’s often wildly facrical.

Go see it


The Oscars

Here are my Oscar preferences – not my predictions. This demands a far more clever understanding of how those voters think. Or at least how Harvey Weinstein wants them to think. (After all, they gave us “Shakespeare in Love” when “Saving Private Ryan” was around.)

Sometimes with the Oscars, it seems to be a toss-up between The Popular v The Desrving. For Best Actor, it’ll probably be George Clooney for “The Descendants”. He was very good, and having seen it again yesterday, it’s really a superb movie. But he’s not a touch on Gary Oldham. “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” is a movie about deception – of country, of friend, of spouse. And Oldham’s Smiley is a man of such a guarded nature that he barely registers emotion; and yet, Oldham manages to suggest a man borne under by the weight of the deceptions around him; whilst also suggesting a relentlessness and ferocity just hidden under the veneer of grayness. BrilliantBest Female: Probably Meryl Streep. She’s always credible. Her imitations of people seem more real then the people themselves. She’ll be a Popular Choice. But really, the award should go to the hands-down winner: Tilda Swinton, for “We Need To Talk About Kevin” – a movie that probably only about three of the Oscar voters saw. She became the embodiment of that hard-done-by mother; indeed she has that staring, slightly demented look that really was the embodiment of the entire disturbing movie

Kenneth Branagh deserves Best Supporting (Male) though the Popular Choice will probably be Christopher Plummer. I guess Captain Von Trapp deserves our love.

Best Supporting (Female): Octavia Spenser from “The Help” is certainly deserving of it. She’ll be a Popular Choice. But really, why wasn’t Marisa Tomei nominated. She was outstanding in “Ides of March” and the only decent thing in “Crazy, Stupid Love”

For Best Motion Picture. Popular Choice will be “Hugo”. After all, it’s Scorcese. His eyebrows alone are worth an Oscar. But really, “The Artist” was a movie of such incandescent loveliness, it brought back the sheer bubbling joy of being at the movies (something “Hugo” labored to pound into the audience’s head)

As for the rest: Best Screenplay – “Midnight in Paris”; Woody Allen. Sheer, intelligent, engagingly witty movie writing. Woody at his best.

Best Director – Michael Hazanavicius. He probably won’t get it because no one will be able to pronounce his name.

Best Foreign Language: “A Separation” (Asgar Farhadi from Iran). Most people probably haven’t seen this movie – go see it. It hooks you into its spell. Probably one of the best “Foreign Movies” I’ve seen since the Argentinean thriller, “Secrets in Their Eyes”

Music: John Williams (for “War Horse” and “Tin Tin”) is the Popular Choice. But really Ludovic Bourse (“The Artist”) deserves it. His music was an actor in the film. It was the movie’s script. Brilliant.

Finally, Visual Effects: “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” Were they the best visual effects (better than the leaden “Transformers 3”)? Who knows. But that was such an unexpectedly good movie, and, man, those apes. Wow

MOVIE – Haywire

HaywireSteve Soderberg (whose last outing was the very credible and exciting (“Contagion”) must have incriminatin pictures of the galaxy of stars that he seduced into helping him make “Haywire”. This is so far, by far, the worst film of the – still young – year. See the line up of extraordinary talent in this train-wreck of a movie: Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Michael Fassbender, Bill Paxton and Channing Tatum. The story centers around Mallory Kane (real-life martial arts fighter – Gina Carano), who’s some sort of special op that’s part of a team to rescue a dissident Chinese journalist from bad guys. But other badder guys deceive her, forcing her to run, jump, leap, fight, shoot, fall, kick and punch her way to eventual triumph – which essentially means killing everyone. This is 93 minutes of loud, thuggish action that dresses a thin and meaningless plot. So, if that sort of thing’s your bag, boy has Mr Soderberg got a treat for you

MOVIES – Getting Your Money’s Worth in 2012

Since most of the people who may read this column (both of them) only go to the movies from time to time, it struck me as a good idea to publish a few hopefully helpful hints of five “Movie Danger Signs”. Once you see these signs, run in the opposite direction. That way, you won’t have wasted your money and – worse – squandered your time.
And hey, I’m sure there are a lot more signs – do add.
Danger Sign #1: Anything that’s ‘based on a true story’
Danger Sign #2: Any comedy with Adam Sandler
Danger Sign #3: Any movie with either Nicholas Cage or Denise Richards
Danger Sign #4: ANy movie that the critics have described as, “a roller coaster ride”, “cool” or “heartwarming”
Danger Sign #5: The Hangover Part 3


There’s an Italian artist – Maurizio Cattelan – who has a tremendous exhibition on at the Guggenheim. Cattelan’s a sculptor whose work is a sort of crazy mix of Madame Tussauds meets Mad Magazine. I’d first come across one of his pieces a few years ago at The Gagosian. It featured a hyper-real sculpture of the pope in full Papal vestments, lying on his side, hands clutching his ferula (that’s Papal cross to you non-ecumenically inclined readers), with a large boulder on him. Around this fallen figure were shards of shattered glass. The piece was called, “Pope John Paul 11 hit by a meteorite.”
Here was the high priest of infallability, smote by a heavenly rock. Totally disrespectful, shocking, irreverent, hysterical.
The exhibition at the Guggenheim features his entire (almost) ouvre hanging from the ceiling, like so many pieces of washing. Amongst the pieces – an elephant covered with a white cloth, only the eyes and trunk peeping through – think elephant in the room; a half-scale, diminutive Hitler, kneeling, praying. This is a guy who once invited the art establishment of Truin to a showing…which consisted of a rope of knotted bedsheets dangling from an open window.
You walk slowly up the corkscrew path of the gallery, marvelling at the inventiveness, the wit and trenchant social, political and artistic commentary of this prankster.
Great way to spend a cold Sunday morning

Movies – A Separation

“A Separation” is an Iranian movie ( clearly, they make more than bombs) about a couple in the throes of divorce. She wants out of Iran, for her eleven year old daughter, she claims. But to us, it seems like an escape, a cop-out of her fraught life. He, stoic, responsible, moral, has to stay and care for his senile father. But that’s not the half of it.
Thomas Hardy said, “character is fate”, and boy, does this play out here, in what unfolds into a deliciously well observed story about truth and it’s many variants – from truth that’s really a lie, to half-truths to truths untold to outright lies and dissimulations.
It’s also a marvelous look into the paternalistic, suffocating world of life for a woman in Iran. No wonder she wants to escape.
The poor kid is forced to choose between parents she loves – a responsible, but overweeningly proud and inflexible father, who lies to protect them and a mother whose honesty may mask her selfishness. Probably the best film of 2011

Cinematically,this is the winter of our discontent. The only movies worth seeing have already been seen. Seen there, done that. There is, of course, “Contraband” with that icon of method acting – Mark Whalberg – which may well be a hidden gem. And which I shall never discover.
That being the sad state of mid January, pre- Oscar cinema, and it being a bitter cold, friendless Friday afternoon, I finally went to one of Spielberg’s two offerings for 2011 – “The Adventures of Tin Tin”.
Now, as you all no doubt know, Tin Tin is Belgium’s cultural gift to the world ( along with Hercule Poiret). It’s a sort of appeasement for Belgium’s other cultural gift to the world – King Leopold’s rape and pillage of the Congo and the introduction of amputation as a form of punishment. tin Tin and Leopold. What would we do without Belgium?
“Tin Tin” is a curious movie – the flip side of “Hugo”. Here we have two of the world’s pre-eminent directors experimenting with animation. ( The opposite od Brad Bird – who recently gave us the cartoonish, but thrilling MI4 – and whose previous works were “Up”, “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille”). Scorcese’s “Hugo” is real life that looks like animation and “Tin Tin” is animation that looks like real life.
Both are serious, almost scholarly exercises in pushing the art – actually, mainly the science – of cinema further.
Neither work, despite some awesome set-pieces. Indeed, “Tin Tin” has some chase sequences which have all the excitement of the first three Indiana Jones films ( why did he have to do that last one?). But it’s a hollow, dishonest farrago – The cynical work of an old guy trying to pretend to the innocence and freshness of childhood in order to ( successfully I might say) woo the ‘Family market’.
Apart from Spielberg, the movie s choc-a-block with talent. Andy – Lord of the Rings – Serkis, Daniel Craig and Simon Peggy ( we last saw in MI4. See above).
And it boasts a library of top-class British writers: Steven Moffat ( the new TV series – “Sherlock” and lots of Dr.Who tales.) Edgar Wright (“Shaun of The Dead”); Joe Cornish (“Attack The Block”). Really? Three writers for this?
Listen – if you’re solo and it’s a cold and stormy night, this is perfectly fine entertainment. But if you’ve got a friend, and it ain’t cold, do something else