Even before bad things start to happen, it’s clear that something is seriously off in The Killing of a Sacred Deer. There’s a cringy neediness to teenaged Martin who goes to see cardiologist Steven at the hospital every single day, but it’s more than that: without ever spelling it out, he demands the older man’s attention and care, as if the heart surgeon owed him. As if the young man had something on him. There’s more than a hint of blackmail in the daily visits, the disproportional gifts he gets from Stephen, the teenager’s wheedling but insistent voice – and the complete absence of any resistance on Steven’s part. It’s as if he already fears the punishment that might follow.
From the School of Subtle Manipulation
There is a wounded stranger in the music room of Mrs Farnsworth’s seminary, a Union soldier from Ireland, a deserter with a leg wound, a man, not exactly young, but handsome. What to do? He is a Yankee, they are all from the South, so shall they hand him over to the Confederate troops nearby, or should they do the Christian thing and dress his wounds first? Mrs Farnsworth herself, the head teacher Mrs Morrow and the five pupils all feel an undercurrent of fear because that deserter might bring the War to their school, a war they watch every evening through a telescope from the upper balcony of their mansion, and they see the black plumes of smoke just beyond the treeline. Sometimes the boom of cannon-fire can be heard. That’s the situation at the beginning of Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled. It’s a must-see, because who tells stories about groups of girls or women better than Coppola? The movie is set in Virginia in 1864, but it resembles Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides (1999) in more ways than one. Continue reading
Lobsters, Parrots, Camels and Death
The Lobster is one of the most unsettling comedies I’ve seen in a long time. It might not be a comedy at all. What unsettled me was not only the world it is set in, but also some of the scenes of the movie. To wit: If you are single, the authorities pick you up and bring you to some cheerless high-end spa hotel where you have to find a partner because they are of the opinion that the world is a better place when there are two of something. This is why your one hand is tied behind your back for the first two days at the hotel. There are also silly dumb shows about how twosomeness is much safer. If you don’t succeed in finding a partner within 45 days, you will be transformed into the animal of your choice. The hotel manager (Olivia Colman) patiently explains that this will solve the problem of endangered animal species. That’s coercion for the greater ecological good; it’s a throwaway line because the movie also works without it, for instance as an absurd utopia, but it made my skin crawl.
… do as the Belgians do
After I killed him, I dropped the gun in the Thames, washed the residue off me hands in the bathroom of a Burger King, and walked home to await instructions. Shortly thereafter the instructions came through – “Get the fuck out of London, you dumb fucks. Get to Bruges.” I didn’t even know where Bruges fucking was.
It’s in Belgium.
Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges is an effective, strangely affecting black comedy. It’s by no means a great movie, but what it does it does tremendously well. Many of the reviews compare it to Tarantino’s films and to the modern Brit gangster flicks such as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, but both of these comparisons miss the persuasive streak of sadness that runs through the film.
Clearly there are elements of Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, but these similarities only go skin deep. (Two humanised hitmen spouting funny, quotable lines.) A more apt comparison would be Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter, both in its absurdity and in the way its characters are acutely aware of their guilt yet unable to verbalise their feelings. Both Pinter’s early play and McDonagh’s film work as comedy, yet it wouldn’t be fair to either to dismiss them as just that.
A lot of the sadness that permeates (yes, I’m using that pretentious word – deal with it) the film, clearly helped by the medieval morbidity of Bruges and Carter Burwell’s simple yet effective score, comes from Brendan Gleeson. However, while Gleeson’s performance is spot on, it isn’t that different from many of his earlier dubious yet loveable characters (his best to date, as far as I can tell at least, would probably be Martin Cahill in John Boorman’s The General). For me, the true standout performance, surprisingly, was Colin Farrell, both funnier and more touching than I’ve ever seen him. (Disconcertingly, Farrell’s second best performance was in a Joel Schumacher film, Tigerland. How’s that for scary?)
In Bruges falters towards the end, with a finale that ramps up the absurdity at the price of its earlier moodiness, but the film remains a small gem composed of moments of unexpected beauty. And how often do you get the chance to see Ralph Fiennes play the Ben Kingsley part from Sexy Beast?
Coming up next (hopefully sooner than this update): Is it possible that the Goofy Beast was slightly disappointed with a Joss Whedon-penned comic? (No, not Buffy.)
Second chances (cont.)
I finished (re)watching the Miami Vice movie yesterday, and I can confirm my impression that it improves on repeat viewings, at least for me. It’s still one of Mann’s weaker films, mainly because the characters are more sketchy, but it makes for a nice change from all of those ’80s and ’90s cop buddy movies. The main reason for this is the characters’ professionalism. You get the impression that these guys are good at their job, and so are the criminals.
In so many other films, neither the good guys nor the bad guys are very professional. Usually, the cop characters seem to be (bad) stand-up comedians first and policemen second. Similarly, the villains of such pieces fail because they’re so easily manipulated. How often in these action movies do you have to suspend your disbelief so much that it’s almost at sea level because the characters act in such stupid ways?
Yes, the professionalism of Mann’s Miami Vice also means that it packs less of an emotional punch. To some extent, the conflict between the guys wearing white hats and the ones in the black hats is so cerebral that I was fascinated, but I didn’t necessarily care. Ricardo’s relationship feels a bit more real, because there’s a sense of history; Sonny’s affair with the high-class gangster moll doesn’t seem like the sort of relationship that has a future, but the erotic charge between Colin Farrell’s Sonny Crockett and Gong Li’s Isabella is nevertheless quite effective.
It’s unlikely that anyone who completely hated the film the first time or who doesn’t like Mann’s work would like Miami Vice on a second viewing. If you don’t fall into either one of these camps, you may want to check it out again in the slightly extended version.
P.S.: And to make up for yesterday’s puerile homoerotic joke, here’s a different ’80s joke. Enjoy! (Note to self: Mwahahahahaha. Erm.)