Category Archives: FILM

Film Review- Shame

This is not a film about sex.

This is a film that contains a lot of sex scenes, which deals with sexual addiction and which deals with sexual norms. But, it is not about sex.

This film is about Brandon, an Irish-American living in New York city. He has a good job, a nice apartment. He even has some friends. But it’s all sterile. His apartment is impersonal and silent. It gleams with cleanliness, a show-home. He spends his time at work looking at porn rather than engaging in work that he finds fulfilling.

Brandon compulsively seeks out sex. It’s a way for him to feel something. It is reassuring because there is routine. He picks up/pays for a woman, has sex, feels okay for a while. Feels something for a while. The fascinating thing about Brandon as a character is that we see him as vulnerable. He is good-looking and by all appearances a “macho” man but he gets into situations which show him as weak. This is so rare in films, where the default setting is vulnerable woman. The last time in film I can recall a male character being seen in this way is Edward Norton’s character in “American History X”.

Brandon’s life is structured and organised. He likes it that way. It is when his sister (Cissy) arrives looking for help that his carefully crafted existence is interrupted. She’s messy, in more ways than one. Her presence causes him to relive painful childhood memories which we are never told about explicitly.

“We’re not bad people, Brandon. We just come from a bad place”.

Cissy is an addict too, but not in the way Brandon is. We see the external reality of her turmoil. She is just as unhappy as he is. She stands too close to the edge on subway platforms; he gets into fights with jealous boyfriends.

This is an uncomfortable film. You will not leave the cinema with a smile on your face saying “I really enjoyed that”. But you may find it interesting. Once you get past all the sex, which is monotonous and occasionally desperate and sad rather than arousing, you see a brilliant character sketch of two siblings who have a push and pull relationship. She desperately wants her brother to love her, to take care of her. He is unable to form intimate relationships with anyone, and so pushes her away.

The two leads (Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan) are excellent and Director Steve McQueen shoots this beautifully. Our hands are not held during this film, we must come to our conclusions. We are responsible for our own ending, just like the characters.

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9 Unusual Films you should watch

  • Nothing is Private (aka “Towelhead”)- This 2007 film starring Aaron Eckhart and Summer Bishil is a difficult one to put in a box and did not do well upon its release due to the deliberately provocative title forced on it by the studio. It tells the story of a young girl, Jasira, who moves to live with her father and the new experiences that come with this. It is a film about paedophilia and racism, yet still has moments of dark comedy. It is not an easy watch, but it is an interesting one. If you’re a fan of the great Nabakov novel, Lolita, you will appreciate the complexity of this film. It blurs the lines of right and wrong.
  • Zack and Miri Make a Porno– Another provocative title which forced posters to be censored upon its release in 2008, this comedy stars Elizabeth Banks and Seth Rogen. Surprisingly, this is a pretty traditional romantic comedy at heart. The circumstances (the pair’s determination to become rich by making a successful porn film) are what makes it “unusual”.
  • All the Real Girls- Starring Zooey Deschanel (in her first film appearance) and Paul Schneider, this is an “anti-Hollywood” romance. Love in real life is messy, imperfect and sometimes painful. This film illustrates that perfectly. The trailer is not the most inspiring in the world and I don’t think it gives you that good an insight into the film, but it’s better than nothing.
  • Jesus Camp- If you want a good horror movie, this is it. This is truly one the most disturbing films I have ever seen…and it’s a documentary. It follows the organiser of an annual “bible camp” in Missouri, USA and three of the children that go there. Bible camps are relatively common in the US and are not disturbing in and of themselves but this film takes it to a whole new level. The rhetoric the children are exposed to is full of war analogies and the importance of being a part of God’s “army”. The children are politicised from an early age, at one point being shown models of foetuses to illustrate the evils of abortion and are instructed to vote judges and politicians into power depending on their faith so that America will be controlled by Christians, specifically Evangelicals. This film remains remarkably even-handed despite the subject matter and creates interesting debate about what children should and should not be taught as regards Creationism and Evolution. This film caused such controversy upon its release that the camp has since been shut down and Ted Haggard (President of the National Association of Evangelicals) who is featured in Jesus Camp, left his job in disgrace over revelations that he used gay prostitutes and was a user of crystal meth.
  • Lars and the Real Girl- This film details the life of a man operating under the belief that a sex doll he bought on the internet is a real person and that he is in a relationship with her. Handled sensitively and surprisingly funny, this film should not be written off due to its outlandish plot and turns out to be quite sweet.
  • Jeux d’Enfants (aka Love Me if You Dare)- This French film was marketed horrifically badly to overseas markets as a kind of slapstick comedy, when in actual fact it is quite dark in parts and is the story of how sometimes an obsession can be all-consuming. Better than love, better than sex, better than life. The two main characters share this same obsession, a game. A truly excellent film, with beautiful cinematography. (I have not linked to the trailer as it is SO bad. You should try this fanvid instead, which cannot be embedded here. It’s slightly spoiler-filled, as most conventional trailers are).
  • Secretary- I adore this film and it’s slightly disheartening to see many write it off as a weird S&M film. If you actually watch it, you see that the two main characters (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader) are sado-masochists, but that’s incidental. The real story of the film is their developing relationship. Dark humour abounds here. Best described as an “alternative” romance. Hey, even sado-masochists fall in love.
  • The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive- Another documentary, and a worthwhile one at that. British writer and comedian, Stephen Fry, speaks about his own experience of Bipolar disorder (or Manic Depression) which he was only diagnosed with at the age of 37. He speaks to fellow sufferers, among them some famous faces and some members of the public. Very interesting and personal look at a very serious illness.
  • Thank You For Smoking- Aaron Eckhart strikes again as a lobbyist for the Tobacco Industry. This film is unusual because it forces us to like and even root for a character whom we would probably hate in real life. We are programmed to hate people like him. But nothing is ever black and white. No-one is all good or all bad. TYFS challenges our preconceptions. Thankfully, it’s also devastatingly funny. Ironically, no-one is shown smoking in the film.

Film Review-The Wrestler

I just had to write a quick post about the Aronofsky film, “The Wrestler”. It went pretty much under my radar and I didn’t intend to see it, not thinking I would enjoy it. Boredom prompted me to watch it online. Without a doubt it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made in a while. It turns out all the hype about Mickey Rourke’s performance is more than justified.

Not having been around for Rourke’s heyday or subsequent fall, I didn’t focus on finding parallels between Rourke and his character’s status as a “has-been” amongst the public and his peers. Instead, I surprised myself by feeling more for this scarred, perma-tanned wrestler than I did for any other film character this year. Having an interest in the awards season, I’ve also seen films like “Slumdog Millionaire” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”. Neither had as much of an impact on me as this performance.

It’s absolutely heart-breaking to watch at times (and also rather bloody, not for the faint-hearted). Rourke gives a very quiet, dignified performance. Simple scenes like when he waits outside the hospital only to realise that no-one is coming to collect him pack more of an emotional punch and will stay with me longer than any special effects could ever do. The terrifying lonlieness that he experiences and deals with by trying to reconcile his relationship with his estranged daughter is incredibly real. You find yourself worring about this man, really investing in him.

Refreshingly, Aronofsky does not paint Randy “The Ram” as a perfect character. The beauty of the film is that both the audience and Rourke’s character are very aware that he is flawed. He is a screwup and he knows it.One of the highlights of the film is Rourke’s interaction with Evan Rachel Wood, who plays his daughter. Wood turns in a fine performance and I think if there had been a bit more room in the Best Supporting actress category this season, she would have stood a good chance.

I really can’t recommend this film highly enough. It is definitely worth a look if only to witness Rourke’s magnificent return to form.