Archive for August, 2010


Samson and Delilah live in an isolated aboriginal community in Central Australia where there’s nothing to do and every day’s the same. As Samson’s frustrations boil over and Delilah’s grandmother dies, the couple set off on a journey of survival through urban Australia making their way with no-one and nothing but each other. With very little dialogue, we watch their relationship grow and the story develop through their non-verbal interactions with each other and the very few people they come into contact with. Considering that neither of the leads had acted previously, this works very well.

Although, this is a love story, it’s not really a romantic film. As the characters are faced with trial after trial, what comes through is their loyal investment in each other and particularly Delilah’s determination to make things work with Samson despite his many flaws. In this sense it’s a love story but with the 1 Corinthians 13 definition of love, not the kind of love that is portrayed in your average Hollywood film. It’s also moving as a film about the plight of aboriginal peoples around the world and the daily struggles of those who fall through the gaps of society. I think it’ll stick with me for a while.

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Watershed were showing Skeletons this week and I managed to catch a screening that was followed by a Q&A with the director and a couple of the cast.

Winner of the “Best New British Feature Film” award at the Edinburgh film festival, none of the reviews/synopses I’ve read really do the film justice. The premise is that there’s these two guys who are like psychic cleaners who provide the service of airing the skeletons in your closet which gives some good comedy moments early on but that’s not really what the story is about. Most of the action revolves around a single job with a quirky family in an isolated country house and it’s here that the characters are developed and the story really happens. It’s not easily pigeon-holed – it’s kind of a comedy, but in a dark, British way, but it’s about loss and people finding themselves through each other. The film has resulted in writer/director Nick Whitfield being called a British Charlie Kaufman and there are definitely hints of the surreal worlds of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich where disbelief is very much suspended.

Unfortunately, although the screening I saw was sold out, there aren’t many opportunities to see Skeletons at the cinema at the moment. Here’s a list. It’s a shame because it’s a quirky British film that deserves a wider audience than it’s getting.

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Manic marks the end of my little summer season of films starring either/both Joseph Gordon-Levitt or Zooey Deschanel that started back in March with (500) Days of Summer (LoveFilm makes it very simple and cheap to rent your way through an actor’s back catalogue).

Manic is set in the juvenile wing of the Northwood Mental Institution. The cast is made up mostly of unknowns, although JGL would have already done 3rd Rock by this time, and it was largely shot hand-held on a digital camcorder which is very effective as the tension builds between various characters and we get right in their faces.

What really makes the film stand out is its focus on the ebbs and flows of the relationships between these broken and hurting people and there are some really beautiful performances as these characters oscillate between vulnerability and their various defence mechanisms.

Deschanel’s quiet, troubled Tracy, Sara Rivas’s mouthy but insecure goth (also called Sara) and Michael Bacall’s nihilist Chad all make this a poetic ensemble piece that reminds us of our fragility and our need to find hope within ourselves and in each other.

Definitely worth the £2.99 it is on Amazon at the moment.

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Way back in 1994, Ben Stiller (looking really young) made his directing début with Reality Bites, starring alongside Winona Ryder and Ethan Hawke. This is one of the films of Generation X – the DVD case synopsis bills it as a romantic comedy. There’s a kind of love story and there are some great lines but this isn’t Richard Curtis. If it is a romantic comedy, it’s a postmodern one. Take out the Gen X pretentiousness, superiority and witty irony, though, and you’ve the classic love triangle of a girl trying to choose between the good guy and the bad guy.

There is a certain nostalgia to watching a film from the 90s but, in this case, it was more a nostalgia for the 90s America I watched on TV while I was growing up than for the 90s Dorset I grew up in! There’s a great scene where the main character’s serious documentary footage of her friends, as they search for their identity and a place in the system they’re trying to reject, gets cut and spliced into garishly coloured, superficial, spoon-feeding 90s reality TV that was spot on the kind of rubbish I remember watching on Sunday morning Channel 4!

For those who like TV connections trivia, there’s John Mahoney who played Frasier’s dad in Frasier and Janeane Garofalo, whose stint in series 7 of 24 antagonising Chloe was one of the few good things about that series. There’s also a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it bit part for Renée Zellweger before she was famous.

Plus, the credits roll to Stay by Lisa Loeb which is up there with the best of the (many) one-hit wonders of the 90s.

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I imagine the trailer for this film was made up of the following words interspersed with ambiguous footage of the cast…

8 candidates….1 job….1 question….1 answer….how far would you go….for your dream job?….EXAM.

If you’ve seen Cube or Cypher, this is a similar film but, unfortunately, if you’ve seen Cube or Cypher, you probably only need to watch the first 10 minutes to have a pretty good guess about everything else that happens thereafter.

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Here be spoilers again – go watch it dammit!

Having watched Inception a second time, I’m not really sure it has a central theme or story – there’s a lot going on with a number of the characters – but I think I understand the film differently (possibly more fully) after a second watch. The characters that really stood out on the second viewing were Cobb, of course, Fischer, who didn’t seem all that important first time round (indeed I still think he’s a bit of a plot device for the others to play around, but he is important), and Mol (if anyone gets an Oscar out of this, it should be Marion Cotillard not DiCaprio).

One of the primary ideas that runs through the whole film is the relationship of the characters to reality.

You’re waiting for a train, a train that will take you far away. You know where you hope this train will take you, but you can’t be sure. But it doesn’t matter – because we’ll be together.

I didn’t really get this riddle or how it fits into the film first time around but now I think it’s quite central to understanding it. These are the words Cobb says to Mol as they wait to be woken by the train from their dream world that Mol has chosen as her reality (by locking away her totem). This is the pact between Cobb and Mol – they’ve gotten lost in dreams and they’ve both lost track – there’s now the risk that, in dying, they won’t wake up – but it doesn’t matter because they’ll be together. These are then the words that Mol says back to Cobb before she jumps. But he doesn’t jump – he betrays their agreement to stay together whether or not it’s a dream. When Ariadne meets Mol in the basement of Cobb’s memory dreams, we see that maybe Cobb’s guilt isn’t just from knowing that Mol jumped because of his inception (this world isn’t real) but also knowing that he betrayed her by not jumping with her. It’s the fact that they didn’t stay together like he said they would (because it doesn’t matter) that his projection of Mol is most angry about as she chases them back into the elevator.

There is a point near the end of the film, when Ariadne and Cobb meet Mol in limbo, where Mol says to Cobb that he can’t be sure of what’s real any more so why not choose this reality? Why not choose to stay with her? It seems Cobb has somewhat lost his ability to distinguish dreams and reality but he does at this point manage to see through his incomplete projection of his wife and convinces himself that he has to let her go (you might theorise that the whole film is, in fact, him performing this inception on himself – eek!)…

I can’t imagine you with all your complexity, all your perfection, all your imperfection. Look at you. You are just a shade of my real wife. You’re the best I can do; but I’m sorry, you are just not good enough.

“all your perfection, all your imperfection” – I think that’s such a beautiful line.

… however, once we ride our way back up through all the kicks (another awesome sequence as we follow Ariadne’s face through the dream worlds), Cobb is finally reunited with his children and he spins his top one last time, just to check, and it spins, wobbles, teasing us, but keeps on spinning, and then black. The cinema audience lets out a gasp and a knowing chuckle and everyone goes away feeling slightly jarred by the tantalising ending.

Was it still a dream?!

I now think that to ask that question is to miss the real point of the ending – all through the film Cobb is desperate to watch the top spin and fall to check that he’s come back to reality but then, in the final scene, he spins the top and then walks away to be with his children, not waiting for an answer. The point isn’t whether or not he’s still dreaming but that it no longer matters. He has made peace with losing his wife and he’s found a way to be with his children. He’s reached his catharsis and the question of whether it’s a dream or reality has become irrelevant – he’s choosing this reality and sticking to it.

This whole thread of the film is carried in Saito’s line that comes up three times – “Do you want to take a leap of faith, or become an old man, filled with regret, waiting to die alone?”.

So what do we learn? The film asks questions of the viewer and we are left asking the same questions of the film – what is real? what did it all mean? was there more to it than meets the eye? – and, just as Cobb chooses his children and Fischer chooses to believe his dad wanted the best for him (Fischer’s catharsis parallels Cobb’s), in life we sometimes find ourselves making choices that are not so much about truth as they are about finding a way to live.

This quote from Carl Sagan seems relevant at this point…

One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It is simply too painful to acknowledge – even to ourselves – that we’ve been so credulous. So the old bamboozles tend to persist as the new bamboozles rise.

Viewing 2 has changed the way I see the film quite substantially and I’m sure there’s still more to pick apart and theorise over but I enjoyed it just as much, maybe more, and certainly differently from first time around. I would note that there’s a scene early on where Cobb gives Ariadne a pencil and paper and 2 minutes to create a maze that takes 1 minute to solve. This is one of the many scenes where the film folds in on itself (just as Ariadne makes the streets of Paris fold in on themselves) – this is surely Nolan referencing the creative process of building such a complex maze of a film. Of course, with the film we’re not really sure that there is a way through at all but it took Nolan 10 years to make Inception so we’ve got a bit of time to think about it!

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This little exchange from The History Boys came to my mind after watching this film…

Timms: I don’t always understand poetry!
Hector: You don’t always understand it? Timms, I never understand it. But learn it now, know it now and you will understand it… whenever.

There are films and bits of films that you don’t really get when you first watch them. But then, at all sorts of random times, something sparks them back to your memory and you find that you not only understand the film better but also yourself or your situation. They become part of the apparatus, the vocabulary by which we understand ourselves and our lives. That’s been my experience, anyway.

I think All The Real Girls is meant to be watched as poetry. It’s an attempt at a realistic depiction of the rise and fall of a relationship between people and all their baggage. It’s a film about things between people. There’s not really a nice neat story arc – it’s more a series of vignettes of the different phases of the relationship. Some are more successful than others and there were bits that I just didn’t really get but there are some beautiful scenes that tackle the real highs and lows and complications and intricacies of two people trying to understand each other and themselves within and through a real (non-Hollywood) relationship.

Like poetry, this is a film that I can imagine watching in a years’ time and it resonating differently. It’s nice to watch a film and know that you haven’t heard everything it has to say first time round.

In summary, a grower!

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