Children of Men (2006)

Children of Men
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
Written by Alfonso Cuarón, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby based on the novel by P.D. James
(number 388)

I have been dreading watching this movie again, because I was severely traumatised by it the only other time I saw it. I went to see it at the movies, I think at the Reading cinemas in Wellington. I’ve avoided this ever since. After I saw it last time I had to watch Kiki’s Delivery service to cheer up afterwards. Hopefully watching it again, knowing what will happen and being able to expect it as it comes will soften the blow.

It seems very topical to watch this right after the Brexit referendum was passed, which could conceivably lead to the zero tolerance for immigrants closed borders situation displayed in this film.

It’s incredibly disturbing to see the proliferation of people in cages all over the streets of London. The whole premise of the apocalypse is pretty compelling though – the impact of no longer being able to reproduce and the panic that creates. This is supported with the complete and thoughtful set dressing and disturbing adverts like that for the Quietus suicide kit which we learn is being given out with food rations.

It’s brilliantly filmed. No one’s denying that. I can accept that the shoot out sequence is astounding. But the story hurts me too much. The sequence with the bus going into the refugee camp and Miriam being taken is one of the most upsetting to me. This movie was made shortly after the photos being released from Guantanamo Bay went through the media. What is happening outside the bus is directly lifted from those photos. It makes me feel so sick to see it, knowing that yeah: this movie is a horror story of a dark future, but a bunch of things depicted in it are already happened or have already. That’s disquieting.

Does it make me love the people? The characters are certainly compelling. The reason this movie is so upsetting to me is how quickly they make me care about the characters. One of the most heartbreaking sequences to me is Jasper giving Janet the quietus as Goodbye Ruby Tuesday plays. The brutality of Jasper’s murder as he makes a joke, watched from afar by Theo is a horrible follow up.

Bechdel test: Kee (number one most stupidly obviously named character of the century right there) and Miriam are together through most of the movie, but it’s astonishing how often they talk via a male character. Jasper, Theo or whoever else happens to be there. However when Kee starts to have contractions they definitely talk directly to each other. So, yes, but not as often as it should/could have been. Matrihka also speaks to Kee, but in a language she can’t understand so… not sure about that one.

Best line:

I love the graffiti “Last one to die please turn off the light.”

Kee: nobody ever told me these things, I’d never seen a pregnant woman before. But I knew. I felt like a freak. I didn’t tell nobody. I thought about the Quietus thing. It’s supposed to be suave, pretty music and all that. Then the baby kicked. I feel it. Little bastard was alive and I feel it and me too. I am alive. Frolly.
Theo: Frolly?
K: that’s what I’ll call it.
T: It’s the first baby in 18 years. You can’t call it Frolly.

The classroom sequence is what really stayed with after the last time I saw this. Miriam explaining how she suddenly noticed miscarriages happening and the blank month in her schedule. It’s such an eloquent way of showing the human reaction of the creeping horror of realising something’s wrong. This weird way to realise that things in the world are changing in a fundamental way…
Miriam: As the sound of the playgrounds faded, the despair set in. Very odd, what happens in a world without children’s voices.

State of Mind: I can accept that the shoot out sequence is astounding. I ugly cried when everyone stopped firing and watched in reverance as Kee, Theo and the baby go past. But the fact of the matter is that the movie is way too bleak for me. I’m an optimist, and this film is relentlessly negative. It introduces you to people you think the characters can trust, and then they betray them, over and over and over. It’s too sad. And more, the bleakness of the world and the realism of the violence which makes it feel more like a documentary of things really plausible in the world now. I don’t like it.

Watched movie count

Shine (1996)

Directed by Scott Hicks
Written by Jan Sardi based on the story by Scott Hicks
(number 382)

This is based on the true story of pianist David Helfgott and I have to say I have no idea how much truth is in this movie.

The movie is a pretty standard biopic – success, flashbacks to a childhood and family situation (abusive and oppressive) and some outstanding thing about the person who the story is about. In this case it’s music, specifically piano. I found that as a film, it spent very little time with some aspects of his life (time spent in institutions, therapies, the breakdown) and a lot of time on the seemingly ‘nicer’ aspects, like isn’t it funny how he keeps being naked or letting the water run?

I don’t know much about music and I know still less about how an instrument is played. There is a lot of pretty music and close ups of hands in this film. I can’t speak to whether it’s well played, but it is impressive. I do love a university story though so there was that to connect to. However the over riding theme of older men forcing David to do things is pretty uncomfortable to watch.

Does it make me love the people? This one is hard for me to pick. I didn’t feel like the film had emotional depth personally. Maybe it was too by the book biopic, maybe it skipped through life events too fast. Maybe it was the fact that this is one of those movies where a Hollywood actor was given an Oscar for portraying a mentally ill person. Does this movie promote sympathy for the mentally unwell, or does it does show one man’s supposed trials as a kind of pageant?

I don’t have much basis for judgement on the quality of the portrayal of the mentally ill or for how realistic this is for David’s life. I understand his sister Margaret’s account of their childhood was very different.

Okay, no. It didn’t make me love the people, but it tried very hard indeed.

Bechdel test: Not that I noticed. It’s possible that one of his sisters speaks to his mother at the start of the film, but the film so closely follows David that I didn’t see anything that wasn’t directly at him. Gillian and Sylvia do talk to each other later in the film but it’s about a man and a relationship so that doesn’t count.

Best line:

David: Perhaps it’s all my fault, perhaps it’s me.
Gillian; You can’t go on blaming yourself for everything that’s happened.
D: No, you can’t blame yourself that’s true. But you can’t blame daddy any more, he’s gone
G: but you’re still here

State of Mind: Yeah, it’s sort of fine. I didn’t enjoy it, the film didn’t connect with me, I just… eh. I won’t watch it again.

Watched movie count

Ace in the Hole (1951)

Ace in the Hole
Directed by Billy Wilder
Written by Billy Wilder, Lesser Samuels and Walter Newman based on a story by Victor Desny
(number 396)

This movie is another I went into with no particular idea of what it’s about. Chuck Tatum is a reporter who is convinced he’s a big shot. He bullies his way into a small town paper in New Mexico and smart talks to all the other characters. Speaking of the other characters, Herbie is so super adorable. Like a cute little Jimmy Olsen. The plot of the movie is about how awful people can be. Charles happens upon a man trapped in a mine, exploits the situation and creates a media circus around rescuing this man. Ensuring the rescue takes several days longer than it has to so that he can create the best possible human interest story.

It’s an examination of the relationship between the media and the actual incidents being reported on. It’s surprisingly still very accurate message wise, and I wonder just how many things that happen now have similar stories attached to them.

Wow, there’s a lot of racism in this film. I mean, yes, it is 1951, but so much down talk to the native Americans and in character racism. At least they actually cast indigenous actors, it seems to be more than current Hollywood can do. But of course, the story isn’t really about them. It’s about white people mining their sacred burial ground and making money off an accident there.

Does it make me love the people? Well, I love Herbie. He’s so adorable, and I, of course, detected homosexual subtext between him and Chuck, which I appreciated.

As for Chuck, for someone so willing to mock people with a belt and suspenders at the same time, he certainly wears a belt and suspenders himself. Man, I love the fashions of the 50s. The pants are so baggy, so high waisted. He’s a pretty hard to like character, with all the

Bechdel test: No. Lorraine, the house keeper and a random tourist lady are the only women who are named and they never talk to each other.

Best line:

Charles Tatum: I’ve done a lot of lying in my time. I’ve lied to men who wear belts. I’ve lied to men who wear suspenders. But I’d never be so stupid as to lie to a man who wears both belt and suspenders.

Charles: When they bleached your hair, they must’ve bleached your brains, too.

Lorraine: I met a lot of hard-boiled eggs in my life, but you – you’re twenty minutes.
Charles: is that boost or a knock, cause I haven’t time to figure it out.

State of Mind: Surprisingly gripping. I was impressed the sassiness of Lorraine and her dedication to living an independent life, and the moral panic that Chuck eventually goes through.

Watched movie count

Mulholland Drive (2001)

Mulholland Drive
Written and directed by David Lynch
(number 399) – hey I’ve watched all the 400s now! Bottom 100 are done.

I’ve watched this film once before and I remember feeling intensely confused by it. I had hoped that watching it again after seeing so many art house films I’d be able to ‘read’ it a bit easier. Sadly, this was not to be the case.

This movie is all about style, and it’s about very little else that I can tell. But that said I was having trouble reading the film. I didn’t know where to start with interpreting, so I went onto Facebook and asked for some feedback about why it’s beloved. I had several helpful responses. I stopped the film 52 minutes through.

Dan: “It opened up a new world of cinema to me, so I’m biased. I think Russ has one of the themes down, for sure, and it’s a Masterclass in emotional manipulation. But ultimately I think it’s a deconstruction of the machine of Hollywood and the fragile dreams that come to it.”

Steve recommended his own blog post about it:

And Film Crit Hulk’s review:

Scott said: “I like it, an immersive cinematic portrayal of memory, dream, and ptsd disassociation, conveying those mental states to the audience in a completely subjective fashion. Asks a lot of questions about those mental states but, like real life, does not allow easy answers.”

Okay, so with those things in mind and a more helpful way to frame the film than ‘I remember being confused and angry with it’, I started up again. I love dreams, so framing everything I see as a moment in a dream was helpful – you don’t have to ask a dream to make sense, things just … are. I felt suddenly less stressed and more open to the film itself.

That said I’m still not sure if I enjoy it.

Once the blue box sequence happens and the ‘true’ story is revealed, it becomes a puzzle. The first part of the film is like fan fiction Diane has written about how she wants the world to be, her relationship with Camilla to have played out, rather than the painful break up and anger.

OMG little baby Mark Pellegrino! Lucifer is a hit man in this 😀 Joyyyyy.. what a cutie he is.

Okay but what the fuck is with the little tiny people? I mean. I guess it’s hallucinations and fracturing reality as she goes crazy, yes? It’s disturbing as anything. But it does lead to suicide so that makes a certain amount of sense. The nightmare man from the man’s dream at the start of the film is very reminiscent of Bob from Twin Peaks, right?

Does it make me love the people? Yeah it does. I feel for Betty/Diane a lot, Naomi Watts is an incredible actor and she makes you believe in the naive new to town Betty, the utter depression Diane feels about the break up, the rage of watching Camilla with someone else, everything. It’s a stunning performance.

Similarly Laura Harring is transcendent, embodying the kind of lofty perfection we’re used to seeing in Hollywood films. An effortless beauty and grace which remains somewhat hard to read, hard to parse as human, which is why her time as Rita at the start of the film is important. That’s where we see her humanity and her vulnerability.

Bechdel test: Yes, a hundred times over. Betty talks to Coco, Louise, Diane, the film industry women and so on. Great film for women characters. Diane talks to Camilla in the new reality.

Besides that, it is nice to have lesbian characters and sex scenes in a movie, although it does fall into the dead gay trope where one of them is dead by the end of the film. Sigh, sigh.

Best line:

Betty Elms: I’m sorry. I’m just so excited to be here. I mean I just came here from Deep River, Ontario, and now I’m in this dream place. Well, you can imagine how I feel.

State of Mind: ‘Silencio’, the rest is silence. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, once I had a way to frame things. My incredible amount of movie watching does give me a bit more of interpretation space as well. I am more likely to watch it again than I thought I’d be, but I couldn’t say I enjoyed it. I suppose with movies which are made to be a puzzle, I’m more forgiving of some than others. Still, what is art if it’s not provocative?

I’m also a bit pleased I’ve been on Mulholland Drive since the last time I watched this film. Thanks, Hamish!

Watched movie count

Paris, Texas (1984)

Paris, Texas
Directed by Wim Wenders
Written by L.M. Kit Carson and Sam Shepard
(number 400)

A yes, one of these films which I start to watch with no idea what it’s about or what to expect. First up, we see a Mathew Mcconaughey in True Detective looking guy wandering through the desert with no water. Mostly I was struck by the beauty of the landscape. From there the film reminded me of Electra Glide in Blue and Rain Man.

Those big wide open white deserts with the intense blue sky is starting to be familiar to me now. I’m impressed with how quickly this film drew me in, how much I was interested right away in the characters and the stories. It’s not a fast paced film, and the answers aren’t immediately forthcoming, you need to wait and be patient.

I enjoy watching movies which spend so much time with the architecture and layout of the city. You don’t often see these angles of the highways of Los Angeles, the gently inclinging suburban hill, the view over the airport. It’s charming.

Does it make me love the people? Absolutely. I loved Walt almost immediately on account of it being Harry Dean Stanton, whom I’ve loved since Quantum Leap back in the 80s.

I took a bit longer to warm to Travis, but I got there. Walt’s wife and the kid, Hunter are generally very likeable. They don’t do anything particularly outstanding or unexpected, but the sequences about Travis wanting to walk Hunter home are a great mini-arc within the bigger story. First rejection, then tentative acceptance. It was very sweet.

I loved Jane right away when we met her, and the monologue scene is heart rending to watch. Throughout the movie you’re wondering what happened to Travis for those four years, and finally when you do find out… you don’t want to know. That stuff is dark. I also don’t love the association between abused woman and the sex industry. It’s a common line drawn and I don’t think it’s necessary. But that said, I found her very compelling to watch and was pleased to see her reunited with her son.

Bechdel test: Three named women; Anne (the perfect suburban housewife), Jane (the lost love, fallen woman) and Carmelita (the Latina maid)… but they only talk to the men.

Best line:

Walt: We live in the suburbs, but I’ve got my business in town
Travis: Oh yeah? What’s your business?
Walt: I make billboard signs for advertising.
Travis: Oh yeah? So *you*’re the one who makes those signs, I love those. Some of them are beautiful.
Walt: I’m not the only one who makes them, Trav.

State of Mind: I enjoyed that quite a lot but I don’t love the ending. I guess there’s too many unanswered questions, specifically ‘what happens next?’ but some people have found a bit of peace or closure so that’s satisfying. I suspect I may watch this film again, at least the first half or so…

Watched movie count