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All This Mayhem – 13/08/2014 @ The Watershed, Bristol.

From the Director of the excellent ‘Senna’ comes a typical rise and fall true story about the notorious Aussie skateboarding duo known as the Pappas brothers. When they rise in the skateboarding world, they certainly achieve what they set out to do, but when they fall, they really sink below rock bottom. The vast extremes depicted here is what gives it an edge over many rise and fall stories.
Ben and Tas Pappas are a couple of talented skateboarders who have gone as far as they can go in the Melbourne skating scene. With both of them being very driven and ambitious, they move to California to get highly involved in the highly competitive skate scene and beat that sell out Tony Hawk. While still in their early teens, they live in skate parks and build their notoriety slowly. The great thing about this documentary is the fact that the Pappas brothers skating is very well documented as there is always someone around with a camera constantly filming them. With their highly developed skills combined with their ‘fuck everything’ Aussie attitude, they work their way up in the competition circuit and reach professional level while they are still very young (Approximately 16 and 17) and competing against the likes of Tony Hawk. Tas Pappas talks a lot to the camera from different time periods, but mainly from his time in prison. This gives the documentary an impending sense of doom as you know things are going to go very wrong for them. When they eventually reach their peak by being ranked 1 and 2 in the world, they live a life of excess. At one point, they have an apartment at the beach, and successful skate clothing and equipment company. Of course, everything goes wrong, very wrong. Due to excessive spending and financial mismanagement, their company goes bust. This is also well documented as everyone involved in the company have their say which is revealing and quite shocking what people where prepared to do to one another. One guy attempts to torch the Pappas brothers apartment down. Also, their drug habit’s reach worrying levels of depravity. It gets even worse when Ben Pappas who is seen as the more quiet brother in comparison to the loud and brash Tas flies home to Melbourne and is caught with cocaine on him. He spends a few years in prison and comes out withdrawn and distant. The footage of Ben back in Melbourne at the skate park is sad as it clearly shows him looking unhealthy and depressed. His friends talk very openly about how he got heavily into heroin. At the point when Ben’s last juncture of his life has a similar narrative to Sid Vicious, the documentary becomes very compelling and emotional. This goes on to effect Tas who stays in America, starts a family and still makes a living from skate boarding. However, he can’t stay away from the drugs, which wrecks his family situation. At this point, he hears about his brothers death and his mother dies soon after. He gets further into drug and alcohol dependency and travels to Argentina to smuggle large amounts of cocaine into Australia to pay off a drug debt, but gets caught and is sent to prison for three years. Here, Tas talks very openly and apologetically about his domestic abuse towards his first wife, about how the tragic death of his brother affected him and how his time in prison has given him time to reflect on his mistakes.
The documentary is well constructed as it first shows Tas and Ben Pappas as inseparable skating partners who took on the American scene and won. This makes their separation, incarcerations and the death of Ben Pappas all the more tragic. They were very young and impressionable talents who were further corrupted by fame and excess. I remember Tas in an interview saying something along the lines of how they went to America to escape their bad upbringing in Melbourne, but despite the fame and success, they somehow ended up like how they were destined to become in the first place. This is a sad statement because it is so true. It rings true the assertion that sometimes, you can’t escape who you are and where you come from.
Again, Director Eddie Martin repeats the same success here as he tells the story of the Tappas brothers very coherently with an endless supply of footage and many contributions from friends and fellow skaters. It is very bold and honest and it certainly does not hold back from the grime which they both experience. Even if you don’t have much interest in skateboarding, it is still a relatable and extreme rise and fall story that is captivating throughout.

Moebius – 08/08/2014 @ The Watershed, Bristol.

If you are slightly squeamish or easily offended, then nothing can prepare you for the shocking and subversive content which permeates pretty much the entire film. Although it does seem like an exercise of shock value and bad taste, there is a twisted Buddhist parable to be found beneath if you see the penis symbolising desire and ego, which in Buddhist belief must be eradicated. I think you see what I’m getting at!

Korean Director Kim Ki Duk uses some strange stylistic choices, most notably the fact that there is absolutely no dialogue in the film, only gasps, screams and moans of pain and pleasure. Personally, I found it a bit jarring at first, but after a while, you get used to this as there is a lot of action and content which do all the talking. For me it also shows social disconnection in society. People in this film use each other for sexual pleasure or are in some sort of emotional or physical conflict with each other, signifying a world where people only serve their ego’s.

Kim Ki Duk also wastes no time into getting down to the nitty gritty. Within the first ten minutes, most men in the audience will be sitting cross legged and wincing in general discomfort. It starts with a seemingly normal family consisting of a man, wife and son (with the lack of dialogue, you never learn their names). Man goes to meet his younger mistress (Also played by same actress who plays his wife!). While they have sex in a car, the wife sees them and notices the son is also there watching them and getting turned on by it. In a fit of jealous rage, wife attempts to cut off man’s penis when he returns home. After failing that, she proceeds to cut off her sons penis while he sleeps, eats it, then runs away!

Now that the son has no penis, he finds it hard to act upon his intense desire he has for his father’s mistress who he regularly visits in the shop she works in. With the forced removal of sexual pleasure, he tries to find other ways to experience this feeling with his father’s assistance. After some internet research, father finds out that extreme friction of the skin can bring a man to orgasm as well as stabbing instruments. We see scenes of son and father rubbing their skin with a stone and experiencing pleasure, but as soon as the pleasure sensations fade, they are left with the intense pain which follows the temporary pleasure. Son starts to have an intense sexual relationship with mistress which involves her stabbing him in the shoulder with knife and digging it in him, causing the friction needed to bring him to orgasm. This signifies again the lack of human compassion and warmth during intimate moments, giving way to human cruelty and it’s projection through self loathing and insecurity.

When a surgical procedure takes place involving the father’s penis being transferred to the son, the son has to face the Freudian nightmare that he has sexual feelings for his own mother. It is interesting how the same actress plays both the mother and the younger mistress as I think it means the son has discovered that the woman he wants is a projection of his mother. Kim Ki Duk does not shy away from the incest theme here as he continues to make the audience feel uncomfortable. When events inevitably lead to tragedy, son finally realises he needs to remove his desire (penis) and then lead a monastic and happy life. One of the principal teachings of Buddhism is to eliminate desire in order to have a non-judgemental understanding of the world without emotional attachment which only seeks to distort your perceptions and happiness. Of course there are probably nicer and more palatable ways of illustrating Buddhist principles, but I personally find it admirable that Kim Ki Duk made these shocking choices without compromise. It is baffling, uncomfortable, intense and graphic, but never dull and full of symbolic possibility.

Gods Pocket – 08/08/2014 @ Watershed, Bristol

Despite the tragic death of Philip Seymour earlier this year, we should be thankful that there are still a handful of his final performances left to enjoy. In this film, Philip Seymour Hoffman as usual delivers a reliably good performance (when have you seen him do a bad performance) as Mickey Scarpato. He is a small time gangster in what is a solidly working class and criminal suburb of Philidelphia in the seventies called Gods Pocket. His crazy son Leon (Caleb Landry Jones) gets himself killed at work for threatening and racially abusing one of his co-workers who reacts violently to one of Leon’s taunts. The boss covers it up by saying it was a tragic work accident. Some people accept it, but some people are suspicious, most notably Mickey’s wife Jeanie (Christina Hendricks) who also seems unsatisfied with her marraige generally.
Things get more complicated when Mickey can’t afford to pay the undertaker Smilin’Jack Moran (Eddie Marsen) and therefore has to possibly sort out the burial himself. Also, a relatively famous reporter with a drinking problem named Richard Sellburn (Richard Jenkins)turns up to Gods Pocket to write a story about the tragic death of Leon and then somehow evolves into an article about the people of God’s Pocket which narrates the film. When Richard meets Jeanie, they start to embark on an affair.
The film does well to depict a run down suburb full of misfit characters who either work, steal or drink and occasionally there is conflict and gossip, but they pull together as a community when any outsider comes to cause potential problems. Richard soon discovers the wrath of Gods Pocket when he writes a misunderstood article and instantly falls for the radiant beauty of Jeanie. Where I think the film fails is that despite the decent performances by Eddie Marsen, Richard Jenkins and Kristina Hendricks, I never found the characters or the film in general particularly memorable (save for Kristina Hendricks who is stunningly iconic and really stands out) and I was not really interested in where the story was going. There were some scenes which I enjoyed and sometimes the dark humour worked, but I was mostly unsatisfied when it got to the end.

The Inbetweeners 2 – 07/08/2014 @ Curzon Cinema, Clevedon.

After the first Inbetweeners movie making a stack of money, a sequel has to made, this time with a bigger budget and set abroad. Yet another young person’s right of passage is explored, in the last film it was the lads holiday, in this film it is the gap year in which they travel Australia.

Will and Simon are both at Uni. Will has not made any friends and Simon is having a hard time with his girlfriend who has become very obsessive and possessive to the point where he wants to break up with her. When Neil meets up with Will and Simon, they learn that Jay has embarked on a gap year trip to Australia. Jay of course is still a compulsive liar and has exaggerated his experience there. He tells them he is a resident DJ and owner of a major club in Sydney, lives in a mansion and sleeps with many women. When the boys get to Australia, they quickly learn this is far from the truth. Jay is hiding the fact he wants to get back with his girlfriend who works far in the outback somewhere. Will bumps into a childhood friend Katie, who is of course, attractive and vibrant and becomes the object of Will’s affections. Learning that Katie is going to Byron Bay, Will convinces the rest of the gang to go with him. During their experience, you get what you more or less expect. There are sight gags that involve penis’s or poo, casual sexism, the accidental killing of a dolphin and cringe-worthy acoustic guitar performance from Will to impress his ‘hippy’ friend. Sometimes the jokes are funny, but sometimes it goes a penis too far or is ill thought out opting for tactless vulgarity instead of wit. I think where the film does well is it’s depiction of posh travellers on a gap year who think they are spiritually enlightened hippy’s which is embodied in Katie’s character. This stereotype  is also more embodied in Ben, who is a dreadlocked posh boy and Will’s rival for Katie’s affections. He likes to out-do other people’s traveller stories by recounting something comparatively more intrepid to the point where it is not true and tries to humiliate or patronise Will at every opportunity. When Will realises that Katie and Ben are not his type of people, his articulate derision of the pretentious and the pseudo spiritual makes you want to cheer as I found it rings true, being as I travelled Australia myself. It was nice to recognise the Byron Bay location where they filmed, which was a hostel called ‘The Arts Factory Lodge’, where I stayed during my time in Byron Bay. There are other scenes that were surprisingly well done, like when the four boys drive in the middle of the outback in search of Jays ex-girlfriend then run out of petrol and become stranded without any water or food. The scene where they accept their fate and all hold hands is surprisingly touching.

The film had the same problems as the last film. I feel it works better as a TV series where there seems to be a rhythm with the jokes. Here, they have to have bigger ideas and with a bigger budget. This takes the authenticity out of what is a simple TV premise and makes it into something it is not. The jokes are more crass and after a while, it starts to become more tiresome. Also, the last two minutes of the film, they squeezed in an entire Asia trip which explored all the lazy and obvious stereotypes you can think of. How many films have made that stale Thailand and lady boys association.

The writers don’t seem to know how to write decent female characters. Every female in the film fits the mould of a negative male fantasy where they are psychotic, pretentious or generally annoying. At the end, it seems like another one will be made. I hope this does not happen as the boys are not at an in between age anymore and I think they have milked this franchise as far as it will go.

Mood Indigo – 02/08/2014 @ The Watershed, Bristol.

After making ‘Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind’, a film that had heart, creativity, was emotionally engaging as well as occasionally funny, Michel Gondry has been getting steadily worse over the years. ‘The Green Hornet’ was further proof in my opinion that Gondry is a one film wonder and is better suited to music videos. I would like to think this film would prove me wrong, but it didn’t. It just irritated me with it’s quirky and overly random ideas and a playfully twee tone which I have grown to hate.
Romain Duris stars as the wealthy bachelor Colin who lives in a converted train where pretty much anything turns into an animation. He has a live in lawyer who is also a chef named Nicolas (Omar Sy). He also has a friend named Chick (Gad Elmaleh) who has an unhealthy obsession with an existential philosopher Jean Sol Partre (obviously a play on the French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre). In his house, he has a door bell that comes to life when someone rings and it crawls around the room until someone steps on it. Also, people’s legs go all noodley when they dance, Colin’s shoes run away from him, there is a piano that makes cocktails and many more. There is not a single scene that goes by without multiple visual quirks or whacky, random events which just happen for no reason. It is as if Gondry made an endless list of any daft idea he can think of and decided to cram every single one of them into this film to annoy his audience into boredom. It is very tiresome after the first 20 minutes, and most of them are not funny. Why some members of the audience were laughing at every little thing that happens really escapes me. All these ideas did not add much to the characters or the story which for me starved the film of any emotion when Colin meets Chloe (Audrey Tautau), falls in love and then goes on a date in what looks like a space ship attached to a crane. I found all the falling in love parts just mainly annoying and airy fairy. Too much twee makes John want to smash the screen into silence, just like Colin wants to smash a radio into silence when he hears a cheesy power ballad.
Later in the film, it does take a progressively darker tone as Chloe accidently inhales a water lily which starts to grow in her lung. When things go all sad and Colin has to work extremely random jobs to fund Chloe’s recovery, I did not feel much in the way of emotion, I just felt mainly annoyance that these daft ideas were still happening in rapid fire pace. When the film ends, I just felt exhausted. That was enough quirkiness for me for one day (Although because of my occupation, I had to sit through this 3 times). Also I was surprised by the downer ending. As the relationship gets more difficult between Colin and Chloe as well as everyone else in the film, the hues become gradually more pallid until the final scenes where they are black and white. Some of the scenes looked very good and colourful, but for me, more suited to a music video.
I feel the film was trying to say something more deeper and meaningful. Was it some kind of dream like allegorical tale of life. It may be vague, but it was all I can come up with as I was so distracted by all the stupid stuff. Sure a lot of hard work has gone into making all the animation and effects happen on screen, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it! It does not give me great pleasure to say that this is in my opinion yet another mis-step from Gondry. I don’t think he will make another great film on par with Eternal Sunshine. I’m sure he will still attract a devoted legion of fans who are into the quirky and the twee, but I shall not make much of an effort in future.

Grand Central – 26/07/2014 @ The Waterhed, Bristol.

Recently, I have become a fan of both Tahar Rahim and Lea Seydoux purely because of their powerhouse performances in previous films. Despite the strength of expected top notch performances by the leads and their fizzing on-screen chemistry, it somehow didn’t do enough to sustain my interest.
Main character Gary (Tahar Rahim) Gets himself a job at a nuclear plant as a decontamination sub-contractor. His job is of constant risk as he works around radiation. During his time working at the plant, he starts a passionate affair with his bosses wife Karole. There are many analogies present in this movie, mainly the feeling of love is comparative to the feeling of what is referred to as ‘the dose’ of radiation when overexposed to it. The element of risk is analogised by both the daily potential danger of working around radiation and the illicit affair with Karole. Karole cannot take this type of risk after a while and chooses to stay with her fiancé as a means of security. The love scenes were well done and in no way excessive. All scenes take place in an idyllic countryside setting away from the poisonous, polluting air of the power plant, however the sound and the sight of the plant are always present as a reminder of the dangerous situation they are both in
I think the problem with the film for me was more tonal than anything. It felt rather dull and monotone throughout. I don’t think I found the symbolism that interesting and I don’t think I found Gary very interesting either. Once it got to the end of the film I thought it is a film I will forget about in the near future.

Joe – 26/07/2014 @ The Watershed, Bristol.

This title reminds me of another recent film where the tile comprises a characters first name, which is ‘Mud’. Joe may have similar character attributes like a dark past and a will to change his life, but Joe is more unhinged. This may be because of the fact he is played by Nicolas Cage, an actor with a notoriety for on-screen freak outs which have mostly become comical to many. Here, he does give a more restrained performance and it is nice to see him play a good role effectively after many recent poor choices to pay the bills.
David Gordon Green I feel has taken a step up here from last years overly subdued film ‘Prince Avalanche’. I see this as his return to form. One of the strongest aspect of this films is the performances, not only by Nicolas Cage, but by Tye Sheridan also. He plays Gary, a 15 year old kid from an impoverished family. His Dad Wade is very desperate, cruel, sadistic and a drunk. He beats up Gary any chance he gets and tries anything he can to get money, including taking it from Gary who has worked hard for it. Gary gets a job working for Joe. Joe runs an illegal operation poisoning trees as the law states that you cannot cut down trees that are alive. There is a lot of symbolic possibility in this particular occupation. My interpretation is this represents people, especially the characters in this setting who have nothing to look forward but a slow, steady decline because of a hostile and harsh society. Also, this town is full of desperate, uneducated people who need to do any kind of work. It is a very bleak state of affairs, but this film is not afraid to show it. Gary proves he is hard working and trustworthy towards Joe, however, Wade is making the situation more difficult as Joe knows he is an abusive drunk. Joe has spent some time in jail and wants to live a peaceful life so at first chooses not to get involved.
As the film goes on, a connection is formed between Gary and Joe. They start to hang out more and Joe becomes a role model, albeit not entirely a good role model, but a step up from Wade all the same. Of course, the more Joe Connects with Gary, the more Joe’s life starts to spiral out of control as the violent past starts to surface. This works it’s way to violent confrontations in the end and the symbolism of a new start for Gary when he gets a job planting trees.
Like any other meditative David Gordon Green film, the cinematography is beautiful. Nature is usually a huge presence in most of his films and here he portrays it in all it’s darkness and light, not only through the poisoning and planting of trees, but through the dogs and how they are used as a deterrent to intruders and a companion to the lonely characters of this film. It presents the themes of cruelty, masculinity, extreme desperate measures to temporarily escape poverty, or in a brutal scene involving Wade and a homeless drunk, just simply wanting a drink. The characters Joe and Gary have a lot of depth and are very convincing together on screen. There are a few scenes when they are drunk together which is a point when it moves into comedy. Nicolas Cage turns on his comical acting without over doing it and has some moments of vintage Cage freak outs, but again with some restraint. One of the only flaws was the character Willie-Russell (Ronnie Gene Blevins) who is the town’s bully and coward. His character is a little cliché and he plays up to that typical bad guy like he does in his other films. That said, this is without a doubt David Gordon Green’s best film since his days of making films like ‘George Washington’ and ‘All the Real Girls’.

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