Take This Waltz – 29/08/12

Take This Waltz, Dir. Sarah Polley – #midweekfilmclub 21 – review by @thedimmick

Hmmm. After taking the summer off from MWFC, I thought it was high time to get the ball rolling again.  Kinda wishing I’d chosen a different week.

A while back I heard that In Bruges was, in essence, paid for by Eurostar, in return for product placement, before it became allowed per se.  I loved that film and couldn’t bear the thought that a trainline, of all things, had shaped it, in any way, for it’s marketing needs.  Well, whilst it won’t have a similar impact on films I love, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that Take This Waltz was made possible by the pockets of magazines called “Boho Interiors” and “Cuntry Living” (sic.) such was the omnipresence of chintzy decor and gingham dresses throughout the overly long 112 minutes of this film.

Starring Michelle Williams (whose sterling work I enjoyed in MWFC7‘s My Week With Marilyn) and Seth Rogen (I have to say, I’ve not seen much, if any, of him and I won’t be rushing back to see him again) as wife and husband, Margot and Lou, Luke Kirby as the lusted for neighbour, Daniel, as well as a nice appearance from Sarah Silverman as Rogen’s recovering/regressing alcoholic sister, this is a film that questions, OK, tries to question, what makes marriages work and what makes people cheat on those they’ve vowed to stay with through richness and poorness.

The trouble is, for me at least, that I didn’t really care for any of the leads enough to want to know the answers; Margot’s self-centred and indecisive, Lou’s a moody wet blanket and Daniel just hones in on Margot’s weaknesses to wheedle his way into her life.  The film is also riddled with lazy cliche’s, the worst of which comes as the wife and her neighbour finally “dive into” their affair.  At the local swimming pool. Erm, please?

I’m painting this as a bed of roses, aren’t I?

OK, so there’s some nice touches too.  Notably, the aquacise class in which Margot and her lush of a sister-in-law partake and also the waltzer scene, set to Buggles‘ Video Killed The Radio Star, which ended with a real laugh out loud moment.  As an aside, this latter set piece brought to mind other pieces of seemingly odd music well matched to the moment in a film; Boney M‘s Browngirl In The Ring in Touching The Void, Belafonte’s Day-o in Beetlejuice or, of course, Steeler’s Wheel‘s Stuck in the Middle With You from Reservoir Dogs.  There was also a shower scene where the elder, wrinklier members of a ladies aquacise class were telling the younger, firmer ladies of how, even if you trade in your old man for a new buck, soon that buck’ll be a gripey old stag too.

With this in mind the film finishes reasonably predictably, which was t0 be expected given the lack of twists and turns throughout.

6/10 – overwrought and under thought out stuff, that under utilised the acting skills of Williams with a shitty character that boxed her into a corner, whilst asking too much of the limited Rogen.

If you’re unsure of any of them; here’s the music vid’s… any other’s you’d add?

review by @thedimmick

Bel Ami, Dir’s. Declan Donnellan, Nick Ormerod – #midweekfilmclub 20 – review by @GarethM1982

A lot of people (okay film critics) have been very sniffy about Bel Ami. Apparently if you’re a fan of period dramas, fancy costumes et all, you might just find a hint of interest in the film. Otherwise avoid it. Why such harsh responses? There are two reasons I can think of. The first is that this is based on Guy de Mauppassant’s classic novel of the same name and for admirers of the book (one of the army of books I can remember starting but never finishing) the film doesn’t do it justice. The second explanation concerns the casting of Robert Pattinson in the lead role. Perhaps inevitably this is where a lot of reviewers’ attention has gone. To be clear, I don’t think Pattinson convinces and this is a problem, maybe the problem, at the heart of the film, but there is much else to enjoy around him. It may be flawed, but the film is by and large a well-paced and entertaining 100 minute romp.

Georges Duroy (Pattinson) is a young man and former soldier living in late 19 thcentury Paris. Determined to escape his poor provincial origins he’ll do whatever it takes to become part of the Parisian elite. The problem is that his only real talent is for seducing women. He gets a job working for the political editor of a major newspaper and quickly ingratiates himself with the man’s wife Madeleine (Uma Thurman) and her social circle. They are quick to remind him that whilst the men appear to have the power in Paris, it’s the wives who really pull the strings. This is certainly true of Madeleine, a very political and intelligent woman who leaves you wondering whether her husband would be where he is without her. Duroy finds himself a mistress in Clotilde (Christina Ricci) and there is the hint of a real love affair, but she won’t leave her husband and so Duroy instead marries the now widowed Madeleine, giving him his cherished place in society. Despite being happy to manipulate his way to the top, once the tables are turned, Duroy is deeply embittered to find others having been using him and unable to see his own hypocrisy.

Despite the oddness of having American actors playing French characters with British accents, both Ricci and Thurman are excellent in their roles – Ricci as the cute seductress and Thurman as a sort of pre-feminist heroine. Indeed it would be interesting to see a feminist critique made of this film. Pattinson as Duroy is a problem though. I may not be qualified to comment but this so-called homme fatale struck me as rather louche and charmless (hardly James Bond anyway!) Are his seductive powers taken for granted since he’s the bloke from Twilight? Neither is it clear that this is a man who aside from his irresistible appeal to women is otherwise without any discernible talent.

I’d have preferred it if he seemed a bit more pathetic. If that sounds harsh on Pattinson I would say that I can’t think of many young actors who could have done better and towards the end he does get to grips with the resentment and bitterness (self-loathing?) that exists within Duroy. We finally have an idea of who this man is. He’s resolved never to be poor again and as is made clear by the climax, is unapologetic about doing whatever it takes to be wealthy.

Many adaptations of classic novels are slow and pretentious and frankly a bit dull. Bel Ami isn’t any of those things though at times it’s a bit confusing. The focus on the corrupt relationship between politicians and the press gives the film a modern resonance and if you’re not a literary purist, it’s quite fun.

Martha Marcy May Marlene, Dir. Sean Durkin – #midweekfilmclub 17 – review by @GarethM1982

Some films are best seen knowing  little to nothing about them so they can quietly creep up on you and this might be one such example. I’ll therefore ignore other reviewers who’ve given the entire game away and tread carefully. The film centres on newcomer Elizabeth Olsen who plays Martha, a psychologically disturbed young woman who having disappeared without a trace for some time, re-emerges safe and apparently, sound.

At first we see a clearly distressed Martha make a phone call to her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) who she hasn’t spoken to in two years.  She is the only family Martha has and there is the suggestion of a difficult childhood although we’re left to guess on that front. Lucy is staying in Conneticut with her husband Ted, where they’ve recently brought a rural dream home to get away from the city. Lucy is unhappy that Martha has been out of touch for so long, something Martha simply shrugs off. Despite the impossibly tranquil existence of the home, Martha isn’t very comfortable and behaves in increasingly strange ways trying the patience of her sister and brother-in-law. These scenes are intercut with Martha’s experience over the last two years in which she was indoctrinated into a cult led by patriarch Patrick (John Hawkes). Most of the cult members are women, many of them barely adults and they are setting up a subsistence farm apparently in the middle of nowhere in order to disconnect from the rest of society. They specialise in taking in waifs and strays like Martha who starts off working the land before being initiated into the much more disturbing practices of the ‘family’. Sometime later this story arc is repeated with Martha this time acting as mentor to teenager Sarah, the latest addition to the cult. Only as events turn increasingly violent does Martha realise the need to escape.

Although Martha comes to see the faults of the cult she is unable to forget the trauma of her experience, something she is unwilling to share with Lucy and Ted who become exasperated at her erratic behaviour and want to send her off for psychiatric help. Two years with the cult has confused her as to social norms – it’s perfectly okay to sit on the edge of the bed when people are having sex, right? For social norms read East Coast upper middle class and there might be a slight dig at the pretensions of such people going on here. There’s just a hint that Lucy and Ted are snobs, overly concerned with status and possessions, trying to create the perfect life in their immaculate lakeside home.

This is the first major feature from director Sean Durkin who’s abrupt but never confusing cuts between past and present perfectly capture the torment inside Martha’s mind and her inability to escape her trauma. The other key strength of the film lies in the performances. As Martha, newcomer Olsen provides a convincing portrayal of a disaffected young woman who ends up on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It is perhaps Patrick who sticks in the mind the most though. As the group’s leader and protector he’s a charismatic presence who’s always on hand with his guitar to sing a song for one of his girls. Hawkes gives a remarkably restrained and sympathetic performance of such a morally bankrupt character, there is no signal to the audience that we should be appalled by him. Indeed none of the other characters seem aware that he is doing anything wrong. Ultimately this is what makes the film so disturbing.

Without giving anything away, the ending leaves plenty to think about although it might not be entirely satisfying. Still, in this day and age it’s refreshing to see a genuinely creepy film that can get under the audience’s skin simply through the subject matter and without having to resort to gruesome gore or torture porn exploitation. It’s a rewarding experience if you can stomach the bleakness and do without the milk of human kindness for two hours. 


Review by @GarethM1982

A Dangerous Method, Dir. David Cronenberg – #midweekfilmclub 14 – review by @GarethM1982

John Kerr’s 1993 book A Very Dangerous Method became a successful play, The Talking Cure, which is now adapted for the big screen by cult director David Cronenberg. It focuses on the birth of psycho-analysis at the turn of the 20th century, as Carl Jung finds himself treating a troubled young Russian woman named Sabina Spielrein, herself aspiring to be a psychiatrist. Troubled is perhaps an understatement – in the first scene of the film she is dragged kicking and screaming into an asylum and the next moment we set her standing waist deep in a pond whilst covered in mud. Keira Knightley plays Spielrein and it’s tempting to think this is the now tired tactic of ‘make beautiful actress look ridiculous’ but Cronenberg claims the characterisation was based on thorough research. She’s borderline hysterical for at least half the film and it’s a fair stretch for Knightley who’s not perhaps the most obvious choice for the role.
Jung is also involved with Vienna-based mentor Sigmund Freud (played by Cronenberg favourite Viggo Mortenson) who treats Jung as a kind of protégé with whom he hopes to bring psychoanalysis to a sceptical world. They’re two of a kind, but there are tensions as well, not least due to Jung’s fascination with mysticism and religion, concerns that Freud scorns. He’s determined to take a ruthlessly scientific approach to this new field of study and is terrified that any digression from this will see them ridiculed. He’s later left unimpressed as he learns Jung has developed a relationship with his patient Spielrein, who on being eventually spurned by Jung, signs on for treatment with Freud. Whilst it is factually true that Jung and Spielrein enjoyed an affair, there is no evidence for it being of the sado-masochistic variety depicted here and a cynic might wonder why it was necessary to portray it like that! We know that Spielrein was physically assaulted and abused by her father but it feels like we are in male fantasy territory.

The film’s main strength lies in the very literate script and it’s all very polished with beautiful central European scenery and a Howard Shore score. The problem is that for all the characters debate psychoanalysis the relationships between them never truly come to life. Freud and Jung ultimately seem more interested in their subject than in each other. Jung’s endlessly pregnant wife is a very passive presence and their relationship never explored beyond her desire to provide him with a male heir.  Is the point supposed to be that there was nothing more between them or wasn’t the director bothered? It’s more successful when focusing on Jung’s anguish at committing adultery and pondering why people settle in life for monogamy. Whatever my misgivings about the casting of Knightley, Spielrein emerges as the most sympathetic character, but on seeing her emerge several years later sane and calm having been cured by Freud, it would have been nice to know exactly how he did it – the dangerous method of the title after all.

This is a film for those (like me) interested in the subject matter, which is dealt with the upmost seriousness. For others it will probably seem a bit tedious and the whole thing probably worked better on stage.

Review by @GarethM1982


Repo Man, Dir. Alex Cox – #midweekfilmclub 13 – review by @thedimmick

On setting up this film-club, at the back of my mind, there was a part of me looking at the future me, wondering if I’d like it if I became a film bore… You know, waxing lyrical about how so and so’s best work isn’t the world renowned x, but the little known y and such.


Watching Repo Man was maybe the litmus test for this.  In a packed Cinema 2 (for people not familiar with Chapter that’s about 70 people), lovely Chapter employee Claire Vaughan introduced a gent who gave a cracking intro talk about the film’s pros, cons and other nuggets of interest (apparently none other than Muhammad Ali offered to cameo in it… in exchange for *pinkie to lip* 1 million dollars).  Unfortunately, for me at least, that was the best few minutes of the next few hours.


Repo Man is a stinker… a real humdinger of a dreadful film. I’d like to say there’s some redeeming features but there’s not.  I laughed maybe once or twice, but for the life of me I can’t recall if that was because of the film or the fact that I’d thought it might be quite good.  So, to be kind, I think I’ll kill this review off now.


Before I do though, going back to the future me (at 88mph?), I’m kind of pleased that I won’t be eulogising about Repo Man as a seminal work, who knows though, maybe there’s some other hidden gem that I’ll find and adopt my finest Oscar Wilde pose to pontificate about in years to come.


Review (well, what there is) by @thedimmick