The Rear-View Mirror: Anomalisa (2015)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

In a better, fairer world, Charlie Kaufman’s IMDB page wouldn’t indicate that the director hasn’t had any films in development since 2015. There are kazillions of dollars around for the likes of Michael Bay, surely it wouldn’t be too horrible if a bag of cash ended up on the doorstep of Mr Kaufman, right?

Anomalisa Continue reading

Best served cold

I do like me a good revenge thriller – although I am also a bit of a moralist when it comes to the genre. The kind of film that takes revenge as a justification for two hours of Liam Neeson (or any other righteously growling alpha male) killing bad guys I can very much do without. If a film questions both the validity and the success rate of your average revenge spree, however, then give me more of that. Even as seemingly straight a revenge flick as Kill Bill complicates its heroine’s “roaring rampage of revenge” in a number of ways: by suggesting that vengeance may be self-perpetuating, by depicting the avenger as similarly guilty as those she wreaks vengeance on, by humanising some of the people at the receiving end of the Bride’s katana. Memento, The Limey, Inglourious Basterds, Oldboy (and in fact Chan-wook Park’s entire revenge trilogy): all of these show how characters may come to see revenge as their best course of action, but they equally suggest that vengeance has a way of coming back to bite you in the behind.

Blue Ruin

Blue Ruin may just be the most interesting revenge tale in years, and that’s in no small part due to its main character: Dwight, played by Macon Blair, is miles away from a Beatrix Kiddo or Charles Bronson in Death Wish, the granddaddy of revenge flick protagonists. With his scraggly beard and his wide eyes, he weirdly looks like the scruffiest, most frightened rabbit. Knives, guns and other stabbing or shooting utensils don’t look at home in his hands. And this drives Blue Ruin most of all: that Dwight may just be so much less capable at administering revenge than the people he’s avenging himself on. Already his murder of the man he presumes to have killed his parents is a messy act, and things don’t get any less messy along the way.

Does it matter that Dwight’s first victim turns out to be innocent of the crime he’s been convicted of? Blue Ruin presents his entire family as guilty in one way or another, and as entirely too ready to take up arms and reciprocate. Yet Dwight’s entire crusade seems misguided from the first: these are not the actions of a stable man, and definitely not those of a hero. When his actions endanger his sister and her family, he goes to warn her, after having gone off the reservation for years, and she tells him in a mixture of sadness and disappointment: “I’d forgive you if you were crazy, but you’re not. You’re weak.”

Blue Ruin

It’s this sentence that resonates most with me. For a scruffy bunny of a man, Dwight proves helpless in some moments, surprisingly resourceful and determined in others – but is he weak? The code of traditional revenge thrillers is that vengeance is that someone becomes the instrument of justice when society fails to do so. They take this task onto themselves because no one else is up to it. Blue Ruin turns this onto its head: Dwight isn’t making anything better, not for himself and most definitely not for his sister. The man that did kill Dwight’s parents is long dead, and Dwight’s first victim simply took the fall for his cancer-ridden father. He continues his spree because he believes his sister may be at risk – entirely due to his actions – but the longer he goes on, the harder it becomes not to see this as an extended, roundabout suicide-by-irate-criminal-family.

Blue Ruin isn’t perfect. Some of it feels a little too derivative – there are distinct overtones of the Coens’ Blood Simple – and while it does what it does very well, I did wish it would try to do more. It’s a small film by design, and I’m fine with that, but seeing how well writer-director Jeremy Saulnier handled his material I couldn’t help wishing that he’ll be more ambitious in his next project. Nevertheless,   will stay with me, mostly for Macon Blair’s pained, frightened eyes – the eyes of a man who just about suspects that he’s in way over his head and that there’s no way this will end well for anyone involved.

Livin’ La Vida Kickstarter

How long has it been since Kickstarter exploded onto the scene? My first pledged project was about 2 1/2 years ago, but there have been so many since. Some were successful, some weren’t; some have produced a film or a game and some are still running. Sometimes the results were mixed, but by and large I’m in the happy position of being able to say: I have contributed, in some small way, to the existence of a number of works that otherwise wouldn’t exist – and that’s a cool thing to be able to say.

I don’t want to overstate the effect my contributions have had; I didn’t tip the scales for any of the projects I pledged to, I was usually one of many thousands. Yes, a handful of the projects I supported were touch and go, but I’m still one of many. Nevertheless, for all the collectivist benefits of Kickstarter, with each of the successfully completed projects I got my hands on – whether the result was a movie or a game – I did get a frisson of “I did this!”, or perhaps rather “I was a patron to this!” In my very small way, I’ve been a mini-Pope Julius II to, say, the Veronica Mars movie or Wasteland 2.

And let me tell you: patronage is addictive. I’ve reduced but not kicked (no pun intended) my Kickstarting habit, but during the first year or so my patronage muscle was twitchy as hell. I don’t regret any of the pledges I’ve made – or, more accurately, I may not have been entirely satisfied with all of the resulting works, but I was still happy having pledged to begin with. Knowing that a group of artists with an idea that probably wouldn’t have survived the cold, hard realities of the free market were able to work on a project close to their hearts? That’s worth a lot – definitely more than putting money into the latest highly polished, much advertised but essentially generic triple-A hit. Put it this way: if you could do your bit to make Kristen Bell happier, what would that be worth to you? (As I said: Kickstarter is addictive – and most addictions aren’t necessarily altogether healthy.)

That closer emotional engagement has its flipside, though: if something I’m invested in turns out not to meet my expectations, it’s difficult not to take that personally. A couple of months ago, Divinity: Original Sin, a role-playing game I’d Kickstarted, came out to roundly enthusiastic reviews, and my endorphin levels went up with every piece of critical acclaim that I saw… until I played the game. Don’t get me wrong: Divinity: Original Sin, regardless of its silly title, is a good game and a typical case of something that simply might not exist in this form without Kickstarter. Whatever would be different if they’d made the game with the support of a traditional publisher wouldn’t address my issues with it. But I supported the project predicated on certain promises that I interpreted one way but that were meant another way. I don’t feel like the developers, Larian, lied to me – but it does feel more deflating to follow a project, read the update posts, religiously watch every behind-the-scenes video, and then check out the end result to find that my expectations were… inaccurate? Misguided? A bit naive?

Patronage doesn’t give me the right to expect a result that pleases me in every way possible. It’d be wrong to think that Larian was at fault for creating a game that meets their expectations but veers away somewhat from mine. I’m still glad I supported the project, out of principle, because more artists and craftspeople should be free to create things that risk-averse publishers wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. But what I’ve learnt is this: Kickstart at your own peril, and manage your own expectations. In some ways I’m probably more disappointed with Divinity than with the handful of projects that reached their pledge goal but then failed in development, because the project lead had miscalculated or because the team consisted of one passionate person who fell ill and could no longer afford working on that particular dream. In the end, what’s more important to me: doing my small part to enable an artist to follow their vision, or wanting them to follow m*, even though the latter is vague even to me? (“I know it when I see it” doesn’t make for very stringent design or criticism.) Based on my Kickstarter experiences to date, I shall have to accept that a feeling of ownership is not the same thing as actually owning something. I support the Kickstarter projects, but they’re not mine. If I’m lucky – and that luck can be helped along by using my brains as much as my gut to decide what to back – I may like or even love the end result, but patronage doesn’t entitle you to liking the end result. Who knows, perhaps Julius the Second looked at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and thought: “If Eve ends up with cow-eyed Adam instead of that hunky David guy, the whole thing sucks. Team David all the way!” If he did, I hope he had the good sense to keep quiet about it.