Red Road (2006)


The film that slotted Arnold between Wheatley and Barnard in my trinity of today’s daring British filmmakers.

Interesting to go backwards to this after American Honey. The latter has pressure points of peril where Star inches through scenes of nauseating tension under the eyes or hands of quietly terrifying men. Red Road starts out as a drama of voyeurism, with the CCTV control room appearing both space-age and prefigurative of Black Mirror and NSA/GCHQ news.

Jackie’s journey out into the world at her fingertips is a sinking-in as if into quicksand; reminded me both of Scarlett Johansson’s excursions in Under the Skin and Jeanne Moreau’s slow spiral through Rome in La Notte, with the danger of the former crossing the psychogeographical dimensionality of the latter, the Red Road high rises looming Bradburyesque above bruised and battered Glasgow.

Interesting to watch after In The House: the filmmaker’s compulsion to ‘recreate’, re-stage influential traumas? (Jackie sees the human stories behind her screens) A desire to reach back into the past and correct course. That peril in American Honey is the quicksand that pulls Jackie in. The film becomes a lot braver, more physical, the kitchen sink a lot dirtier (Katie Dickie’s performance gains great depth here, too). There’s a sickening sense of parenthood in Jackie’s relationship to her situation, like she’s trying to undo some perverse birth. The denouement shows us the wan and cold world of the present day, the truths that have always been there.

Fund the arts.



Happy End (2017)


I always thought it was Charlie Brooker, the creator of Black Mirror who said “dialogue is just two monologues clashing” but I find that it was actually Charlie Brooker quoting Russell T Davies. Anyway, Michael Haneke’s film is another study of a modern world in which no-one is able to successfully articulate their sicknesses to each other, a condition largely accounted for (or symbolised by) the screens that have intruded between us.

As with The White Ribbon (perhaps more so) the script is elegantly decentralised across the experiences of the ensemble cast’s characters without feeling fragmented (interconnectivity without communication). Perhaps the tradeoff for this is absence of the black intensity of Amour, besides the most physical karaoke session ever witnessed. And while the pacing of individual scenes like Eve and Thomas in the car is perfectly judged, there’s maybe an over-reliance on those trademark set pieces which threatens to undercut moments of surprise.

Nevertheless, Haneke at his funnest and funniest here, but still the best on the bleak and abstract absurdity that connects life’s particular tragedies.


Carol (2015)


Watch this instead of My Twentieth CenturyYes it’s chocolate-boxy, but I like the way it reaches back into that rosy past and remoulds it in the shape of a story which is fresh but believable. The opening shots of Manhattan streets could belong to any 50s crime drama throwback but we’re obviously given something very different, though something which feels like it’s happening in parallel with all that stuff (the incidental flickers of Montgomery and Eisenhower on radios and TVs keep this dominant, violently masculine context or historical narrative in mind. The motel ambush is a treat thus recontextualised).

Lots of Hopper – lovingly so. My dvd copy came with a few postcard screenshots that could have been grabbed from any scene. People talk about Hopper’s spirituality and I don’t know enough about him to relate to that, but the movement and framing here goes beyond nostalgia towards a kind of knowing self-indulgence, as if the secondary characters are consciously acting out the world that they know we will look back upon and imagine. It’s not NY Confidential though; there is a kind of all-American honesty to the stuffy superstore clerks, the dozy motel receptionists, the chattering NYT photo-editors. This harmonic glow rescues the festive yankee cheer, Leica photography, and heartwarmingly binary social dynamics from registering simply as hipster catnip in 2015/2017.

At the centre of this world is a concisely bittersweet affair. The title is an interesting one (given that it’s not The Price of Salt, the title of Patricia Highsmith’s novel): Blanchett’s Carol is largely foregrounded in the weightier second half of the film, which leans on her fractious family situation. I could have handled a little more emphasis on the progress of Therèse – perhaps that’s partly why Call Me By Your Name feels a shade ahead as far as pieces like this in my recent viewing history go. S and J talked CB up (and she swings so easily from liquid grace to trembling force) but I think Mara steals the show, especially at her most distressed. I needed that ending, though (glad it didn’t turn into Heartbeats).

Would consider taking my dvd home for Christmas.


Good Time (2017)


Does raise an interesting question about how you mark a film. I tend to want every film I watch to be the best film I’ve ever seen, an attitude which lends itself to negative marking. Negative marking would suggest that a perfect film is one about which you have no complaints. I have no complaints about Good Time. It’s seriously tense, psychological in the manner which I saw and loved in American Honey (close and somehow impartial but so involved). It’s a total trip – that fairground is a cackling neon nightmare, a setting which comes closest to emulating the aural experience of the pounding score from OPN (which compliments the film’s atmosphere ideally throughout and in other more co-constructive ways). It’s a New York film as much as Taxi Driver or King of New York, but the Queens streets present a desperate and collapsing side we haven’t seen so often. Pattinson and B Safdie are great; their fraternity is manipulatively oriented to the perfect extent to keep Connie in the moral gutter, but frantically sympathetic enough to keep us involved and hanging on as the film lurches round corners and down rabbit runs, always in the subjunctive mood (nothing goes to plan, everything is conditional and circumstantial, constantly diverting away from expectation).

I can’t say that it’s a perfect film because it doesn’t have the next-level epiphanic potentiality of an Inland Empire or a Sleep Furiously or, even, an American Honey. It’s probably a great case for marking films positively: what really matters is that you saw it and you had a very


Call Me By Your Name (2017)


Saw this at the UPP with J and S after work last Tuesday. Was a fine surprise. Took me about half an hour to get into it, I think largely because of the pacing, which is slow throughout but initially lends itself to plot-based impatience. In the early scenes, the lounging and philosophising and pontificating is at its least appealing, too. But the whole film is best seen (and telegraphs itself as) a holiday: it’s sad because it’s temporary; otherwise, its blissful. The more I thought about it the happier it made me. The visual beauty is intoxicating but there’s plenty of visual restraint, which valuably installs the theme of emotional development at the heart of the story. The use of jewish identities is interesting: prudent privacy is hinted at, a Mussolini painting is gestured at fleetingly, but the film takes place almost entirely within a family community which is eminently welcoming (I think LG may actually have even dedicated CMBYN to fathers in general, and Michael Stuhlbarg is a heroic if lovably preposterous one here). The beauty in honesty and smallness. Also worth mentioning that it’s hilarious when it needs to be, and not hilarious at exactly the right times: the scene with the peach is sequenced precisely to be morbidly fascinating, hilarious, toe-curling, and achingly sad, all at the level of out-loud guffawing and gasping.

Like a paperback you’d retrieve from your back pocket in a piazza or hold up against the sun while lying on a blanket in a meadow. Intense but slips down like a glass of homemade apricot juice.


American Honey (2016)


Andrea Arnold gave us Fish Tank in 2009, but seven years later she stepped up to the plate again and connected so sweetly you’ll have tears in your eyes as it disappears behind the sun. AH is perhaps the best new film I’ve seen since A Separation.

Star starts in a dumpster, dropping nauseating discarded food into the clutching hands of a young boy below. She’s responsible for two children, though it becomes clear that they aren’t hers – she looks after them while their father is out all day. He refers to himself as “Daddy” while he gropes Star in the evenings, the dinner she has made for him going cold, the old family photos over his shoulder bringing tears of desperation to her eyes. She needs an opportunity to flee and the arrival in town of a vanload of raucous teenagers, following Shia Labeouf’s suggestive tune, is good enough for her. They travel the country as a crew selling magazines to any and every community (AA compares them to Big Issue sellers in the UK, however: they’re selling actually themselves) and partying in the evenings.

Like a miraculous collaboration between Harmony Korine and Ken Loach. The documentary approach is compressed into the closeup empiricism of Moonlight, putting us inside Star’s head as she fights to balance her own identity with communal conformity. The gang variously appears adversarially chaotic and unconditionally welcoming, a cohesive unit and a fractious coexistence of individuals – kind of like any group of teenage friends. Korine’s acidic sensibility is, importantly, traded in for a kind of ecstatic realism which kept reminding me of Elysia Crampton. The gang’s music is hypermodern, infectious both emotionally and lyrically, like the blasts of Lil John that drill through the geological sandwiching of EC’s pieces. In AH the critical acceptance and celebration is specifically of youth culture – I think it’s important that these guys are a mess but ultimately appear rather harmless.

The storytelling is abstract but excellently paced and, for the most part, very tense. This is because Star constantly puts herself in situations of peril; we telegraph them but it is often unclear whether she has, such is her combination of innocence and experience. Scenes like her tantrum in the upper-class detached house, her manipulation of the wealthy southern men with the mescal, and her rendezvous with the grimy and sinister oil worker have you holding your breath and remind you of the unease throughout Fish Tank. The problems with the societies beyond the group, within which the group appear comparatively wholesome, are essential to the dynamics of sympathy. I loved the incongruous final transaction, with the young children politely accommodating Star with their meth-addict mother oblivious in the next room, Star returning with groceries.

Another chapter in the story started by the neo-realists: ordinary people in films about ordinary people. I watched the press conference at Cannes for AH this morning and was fascinated but not surprised to hear that most of the kids involved not only had past lives in this business, but were actually carrying it out while shooting was taking place. There’s a scene where the gang interact naturally with a mirror group of African Americans; AA mentions that this group were the real thing, simply wandered over and started talking. Labeouf – who is volatile but idealistic, a latterday Steinbeck character, and makes excellent use of his age difference from Star – spent time with a gang like this before filming started.

A Trump era classic for sure.