Film Eight, Week Eight: The Duke of Burgundy

The Duke of Burgundy is one of those films making me fall back in love with film.

It’s filthy, yes, but filthy in a no-nudity kind of way that for me elevates this film – often, it’s far sexier wondering what’s underneath than actually seeing it. To me it’s a very accurate portrayal of a D/s relationship and the subtleties of power and how it’s exchanged, but also of any relationship, with all its give and take and push and pull.  At first you know who is in charge, but your assumptions are challenged quite quickly when the story rewinds and shows you the relationship between Cynthia and Evelyn from a different angle. 

The film is dreamy, in an Emmanuelle, 1970s Euro-chiller kind of way, with all lush autumnal colours and textures, reflecting the cabinets full of butterflies and moths and other insects that feature heavily in the film.

I’ve not seen any other of Peter Strickland’s films, but I suspect I will be watching Beberian Sound Studio very soon.

Film Seven, Week Seven: The Theory of Everything

Well, this is a film that built up all sorts of anticipatory expectations, but didn’t quite hit the mark for me. Eddie Redmayne really does deserve all the kudos – sometimes when actors are “doing” another famous person on screen, you still feel that they are just someone acting as someone else and you can’t see past this. Not the case here, he really seemed to become Hawking.  The cinematography, set design and costume design were all spot on too. However, this film could have done with about half an hour being chopped out of it…  My film buddy suggested it would make a good TV film, and I kind of agree.

A good thing though was the way they handled the “science-y” bits. As someone who does a fair bit of science comms in her day job, this is tricksy stuff, even more so when we are talking big things, like the birth and death of the universe. This had some lovely little scenes, such as when Jane Hawking demonstrates the links between the theory of relatively and chaos theory using potatoes and peas.

The best bit? Lovely, lovely Maxine Peake playing Hawking’s assistant and soon to be next Mrs Hawking, Elaine. She was a wicked sauce-pot and I want her to be the next Mrs Neal.

Film Six, Week Six: Australia

A trip to Beavertown on Saturday let to much drunkeness before beating a tactical retreat to my sofa to watch a film, any film. And the one that happened to be in my flatmate’s DVD player was Australia, the 2008 epic from Baz Luhrman which I’d watched half of on the plane home a few years ago before giving it up due to the terrible overacting.

I can’t tell you much more about this film than I did then, and nor can poor Tony, because it mostly involved me giving a running commentary on how stupid the plot was based on my knowledge of that bit of the world, which is slight but still I believe a heck of a lot stronger than those who wrote the script.  It did look very, very beautiful though.

Film Five, Week Five: Whiplash

I once took up percussion at school, because I wanted to be just like Lindy Morrison from the Go-Betweens, who I had spotted being all cool on late-night music video shows. I was terrible, not just because I am generally uncoordinated, but because I just didn’t have the drive to spent more than an hour or two a week practicing.  My teacher despaired of me, and eventually gently suggested I give the classes up.  I don’t think teaching me was what he was thinking of when he applied to teach at an all-girls high school.

Would it all have been better if I had had a teacher like Terrence Fletcher in Whiplash? Nope. Silly rhetorical question.  Fletcher is terrifying.  But JK Simmons manages to finely balance the human and the inhuman in his characterisation of Fletcher, and the close ups of his face during his several monologues are worth the price of the cinema ticket alone.  Miles Teller’s Andrew is also terrific as Fletcher’s student.  To me, some of the best scenes were when he was trying to justify himself to his family, who place the masculine sport above the feminine music, and who you feel that even if Andrew won a Grammy, they’d not give a toss.  And the end!  The end of this film!  It’s almost too hard to bear, I had my hands clenched willing Andrew on.  Make sure you get a hug from someone afterwards, aftercare after releasing all that adrenaline is important, you know.

So yeah, I loved this.  And who didn’t leave this movie and download all the Charlie Parker on Spotify?

Film Four, Week Four: Into the Woods

A few moments into Into the Woods, my chum Andrew whispered that if at any time I wanted to go and get a beer instead, just to let him know.  As it turned out, he ended up quite enjoying it. I enjoyed it from the start, but your milage may depend on how much you like Steven Sondheim.  The scene with the two princes dude-bro-ing it up a storm was particularly hilarious and well done.

But, we have achieved Peak Depp.

Film Four, Week Four: Foxcatcher

Foxcatcher is the best type of psychological thriller, so tense and taut and quiet, so that when the crucial moments come with a (literal) bang, the shocks are like being plunged into a pond full of ice.

All three lead actors were well cast: I didn’t recognise Carell, and it wasn’t because of his prosthetic nose. His whole body is acting. The same can be said for Tatum and Ruffalo – they walk like wrestlers, like jerky puppets.

But the cinematography almost steals the show for me – Australian Grieg Fraser made the film feel as if the viewer was also back in the 80s/90s.  He was responsible for the cinematography on another film I really liked for the way it was filmed, Bright Star.  And when you look at the IMDB recommendations for that film it brings up Summersault, which I have just remembered is also awesome and you should all watch it.  And onwards down the IMDB rabbit hole I go…

Film Two, Week Two: Birdman

I think I fell in great like with Birdman from the opening credits, with its lovely take on Godardian* typography. I did spend a lot of the time watching this film feeling as if it was written especially for Michael Keaton, but both the writers and Keaton deny this – after reading that article I felt a little bit down on thinking that was the case.  I greatly liked the continuous takes, the clever way it was edited, the script (this article from a series on screen writing details on of the pivotal scenes and is fascinating).  I loved the acting – being an actor playing an actor acting in a play must have been a tough day at the office.  So yes, A-, would watch again.

* I suspect I may be re/watching some Godard films this year.

Film One, Week One: Exodus

New Year’s Day found me tired, full of cold, and in need of a probably-terrible “blockbuster” film, preferably in an actual cinema, with a tub of Ben and Jerry’s.  So Exodus: Gods and Kings at my brand-new local cinema it was.

Back in the day my friends refused to sit next to me during a packed screening of Gladiator.  I was in the midst of an Ancient History degree and prone to making pretentious pronouncements on historical accuracy on the big screen or in novels. I was insufferable. So I sat by myself down towards the back getting cross about whether the fibulae holding people’s clothes together were from the right time period.  I’ve not really mellowed over time* but I felt that Scott had managed to do a good job of depicting the everyday lives of the lower classes, even if it wasn’t historically accurate in many other ways.  But I suspect that the majority of other cinema goers in this screening were more interested in whether it was Biblical enough – there were some furious debates in the foyer afterwards where the consensus was that it seemed OK from the POV of the Scriptures but that some of the characters were a little bit OTT and had too much make up on.  I agree with them there – I only just realised that Ben Mendelsohn was in it.

* I spent ages getting cross about the casting decisions even before the film was made – excellent Slate article on the ethnicity of the Ancient Egyptians here.