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PEANUT FILM REVIEWS 4

A few things I’ve seen over the past few months.

A Quiet Place

Why didn’t they live next to the waterfall? Why did they fill their house with noisy things (pictures on frames, glass jars on the edge of shelves, etc)? Why did they have a child in the first place? How did that nail get there like that and how come nobody else stepped on it? All the world’s scientists couldn’t work out how to kill these creatures; but an eight year old girl could. Not that a script riddled with nutty plot holes is necessarily an insurmountable barrier to quality, but this one has so many transparent absurdities that the writer can only be a lazy and incompetent bungler, evidenced by ham-fisted dialogue and cheesy direction. The most stupid scene in this execrable yarbles — which made me and Ai-chan burst out laughing — occurs when the couple’s child is being menaced by monsters — no time to lose, have to run now to save her — and they stop to ask themselves; ‘Who are we if we can’t protect them? Who are we?’

Akira

Watched this one for old time’s sake. I was fourteen when it first came out and saw it stoned at Glastonbury, then watched it stoned again, then again. Never did work out what was going on. Now I see it’s quite a straightforward story, very violent and quite basic really — but still spectacular, in the best sense. The music makes it (I sometimes listen to Exodus From The Underground Fortress walking around Reading).

It’s set in 2019 around the building site for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Strange! Hopefully they’ll use it as a source of inspiration for the closing ceremony…

Florida Project

Not much of a story, but an immense performance from the little girl, if it can be called a performance. Just a little girl really, somehow being natural in front of a big film crew. What this film demonstrates  is how unlike little girls and boys scripted children are, who nearly always sound like middle-class screenwriters.

Honorable mention to some decent indy US films in the past couple of years. I, Tonya, Brigsby Bear, Ingrid Goes West and Hereditary; not immortal masterpieces, but very good.

After Life

Ricky Gervais finds a way to vent his spleen. There are some good bits and he’s still got the charm of a loser, just about, but my God what a sickening finale. The whole thing leads up to the most telegraphed, expositional half hour of drama you’ve ever seen, in which the hero tells us how great everyone is and then explains the moral to us! Also, while I’m venting my spleen, why must every television show be passed through Instagram filters now? Everything has to be in a warm shade of tasteful pastel.

Russian Doll / Sorry to Bother You / Annihilation / Us / On Chesil Beach / The Sense of an Ending / etc, etc, etc, etc, etc.

Bland, bland, bland, bland, bland, bland. I could list a thousand more. Written by people with no life for people with no life. The dramatic equivalent of eating expensive vegetables grown in the antipodes. Everything tastes the same, everyone talks the same. Occasionally covered in an avalanche of salt (sex, SFX, weird things happening, etc.) to mask lack of flavour.

Of course watching this cardboard — although I tend to turn off after ten minutes — is far worse than eating a fancy meal-deal, because you’re seeing straight into people’s empty hearts, which in turn penetrate your own. It’s more like living in the world of Invasion of the Body Snatchers where the aliens write poetry and scream it through your letterbox.

Parks and Recreation

I’m always ready to watch great comedy. I gave up on this after a few minutes of episode one because it was horrendous. Then I heard that season two is good — and, with a few dead episodes, it is, just about. So is season three… and then that’s it; it rots. The quality comes from vivid characters, honored by excellent comedians (particularly Nick Offerman, Audrey Plaza, Amy Poehler and Chris Pratt) and some beautifully subtle writing and impro. But then the fucking gags take over. The comedy no longer emerges organically from plot and character but is forced upon them. Tiresome story-lines are dragged out for cheap comedic or dramatic effect and characters begin acting with moronic stupidity or cruelty or spout random ‘wacky’ nonsense (followed by a deadpan ‘I think I’m going insane.’) just to get a larf or to make a woke point (hey girls! you can be smart and tough too!). The effect of watching good characters twisted around in this way, is like watching people you love get tortured, as if the scriptwriter is electrocuting them, screaming ‘dance! dance! make us laugh!’

Another crime against artistic truth in ‘Parks and Rec’ — as with so, so, so, so, SO much dramatic art — is the nightmarish socio-political world. The story is set in the lower levels of local government. In series four the ambitious main character, Leslie Knope (the real world equivalent of which would be a hideous creature), runs for local office and slowly climbs up the ladder of success. ‘Follow your dreams’ is, along with Apple computers, one of the constant sub-themes… as long as your dream means a job; in this case a job in the satanic loom of the US government (Knope’s heroes are all mass-murderers). The workspace is presented as a place of clumsy gaiety, with everyone non-ironically delighted at the latest plan to hold a lollipop-themed, crazy-hat-wearing, diorama jamboree (eventually the old sourpus Ron gets roped in). Anyone outside of this world is an object of ridicule; cults (hahaha Zorp!), the lower classes (mocked every week for their immense stupidity) and various weirdos (the oddball representative in the show, April, whose husband yearns to be a police officer, is soon living an entirely conventional life; decorated with surreal flourishes). Complaints within the confines of the system are permitted, encouraged; complaints about the system are inconceivable.

Mum

But then, do we need the crumbling world and the horrors of modernity to shape a story in order to enjoy it, or for it to be meaningful? Obviously not. Even Shakespeare’s stories shiftily downplay the horrors of his world, and I think we can agree that his stories are pretty decent. But it’s important to look for what isn’t appearing the screen.

Mum, for example is magnificent. Imagine, if this means anything to you, the best of Mike Leigh, over eighteen half-hour episodes, in a modern semi-detached in Chingford. It’s exquisitely observered. The final series, three, was weaker; all the negative traits of the characters were cruder, pushed too far, which is common in this kind of thing. It doesn’t matter too much, by the time you get a long way into a story your love for the characters makes you more forgiving — which applies to life.

The problem is that something is missing. As I say, there’s no need for a light comedy to stare into the VOID, but it’s all a bit too neat. If it were me the granddad character — which is marvellous (played by one of the great unsung masters of dramatic arts, Karl Johnston) — would have been darker, and a few worms would have crawled in at the borders.

Seven Samurai

Another re-watch for this masterpiece. Plenty to talk about here of course — the direction, the subtle complexity of the characters, the thrilling story — but I’ll just confine myself to superbrief comments on a couple of my favourite themes. The first one is how genuine sweetness and innocence always seems to be part of the greatest works of art; Mifune in this case, at his charismatic peak, has a childlikeness to him which somehow, despite being ‘the comic element’, is the centre of the entire dark, swashbuckling epic. All who relate to him reveal themselves thereby, as everyone reveals themselves in the presence of children and animals. Secondly, it always thrills me how you know in the first few seconds of a great film (book, meal, massage, conversation, etc, etc) that you are in the hands of a master. Just a glance, a word… and oh the peace!

Chernobyl

Yes, very good, very exciting. The human-element is very well handled, even inspiring. But of course the entire disaster, the horror of a nuclear meltdown was due to… communism! Yep, and the end of the world is due to capitalism and cancer is caused by Donald Trump.

Celestial Wives of the Meadow Mari

As beautiful as…

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