Watching Movies: Nymphomaniac

It’s been three days since I watched Lars Von Trier’s ‘Nymphomaniac’ Vol I and II. It has taken me this long to work out what I want to say, and even so I’m just hoping I’ll be able to make some sort of coherent statement about it by the end of this post.

Nymphomaniac Vol I poster

Nymphomaniac Vol I poster

These two films, shown back to back at the Cinema Nova in Carlton, ‘Nymphomaniac’ follow the story of Joe, played by Stacey Martin (Young Joe) and Charlotte Gainsbourg, after she is found by Seligman (Stellan Starsgard) bloodied and bruised, in an alley near his house. Tucked up in his bed Joe tells Seligman the story of her life, and about her struggles with her apparently insatiable desire. That’s basically the plot.

I was a Von Trier virgin before seeing this film, I’d seen a bit of ‘Antichrist’, probably only the opening sequence, and had never seen a whole film of his, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect.

I’ll start with the easy stuff; what I liked. Visually this film is gorgeous; not only is the cinematography (Manuel Alberto Claro) impeccable and beautifully constructed, but the use of split screen, text over the action, animation, weird bits of wildlife footage and various other digressions are masterful. One chapter of the narrative is shot in black and white, causing the whole episode to take on a surreal faraway aspect. In particular the overlay of a shot of hairless female genitals to a closed eyelid was lovely.

Secondly, the acting was astounding. There was a depth to the characters that you don’t/can’t often get, a genuine sense that what they’re showing you is real, sometimes painfully so – Christian Slater’s hospital scenes, Uma Thurman’s scorned woman, Stacey Martin and Charlotte Gainsbourg’s blank desperation, Jamie Bell’s sadistic care, I could go on. Shia LaBeouf’s Jerome and Stellan Starsgard’s Seligman while beautiful, were not stand outs for me in this parade of great performances. Perhaps I should be fair to them and admit I wasn’t particularly sympathetic to their characters and this may have coloured my impression of their performance.

Thirdly, there were aspects of the story which stood out for me as being particularly well handled; the chapter featuring Jamie Bell’s character K is a particularly interesting episode for reasons (spoilers) and the relationship between Joe and her father (Christian Slater) come to mind. The addition of Seligman’s obscure diversions I think also adds a sense of lightness to the film which would otherwise be lacking – a chance for us to catch our collective breath between the cocks and clits and wrechedness.

Fourthly, it is clear that Von Trier is a master of manipulation and suspense; in at least two scenes we were convinced that something absolutely terrible was going to happen and it never eventuates. The flip side of this is that when the bad thing does happen we’re completely blind-sided by it.

Nymphomaniac Vol II poster

Nymphomaniac Vol II poster

Now we get to the parts I’m not so sure about and that is, to a greater or lesser extent, the statement the film is making. We are shown over the course of ‘Nymphomaniac’s’ four hours a number of controversial and/or ambiguous moral positions. The discussion of whether Joe’s prioritisation of pleasure over the care of her child and whether this would have been questioned had she been a man, and the discussion about whether a person with a sexual attraction to children who never acts on it is a good person for example. I feel like this film is supposed to provoke the viewer to think about their own attitudes to sexuality and it’s relationship to morality, but part of me wonders whether the bad thing that happens takes focus away from this by leaving you feeling like you’ve been kicked in the guts. Interestingly the bad thing could also be analysed at a potential statement, but spoilers.

I suspect that this is what all of Von Trier’s films are like; gauntlets of mind-fuckery that you have to run until you come out the other side changed. I think the question one really has to ask is am I changed for the better?

Nymphomaniac is a beautifully made, gut-wrenchingly intense cinematic journey which makes you question not only what just happened but whether you can ever look at people the same way again; whether your definition of right and wrong has been irrevocably altered.

I’m fairly sure I enjoyed it, much in the same way I can say that enjoyed ‘Shame’ or ‘Requiem for a Dream’. Definitely an experience to watch, and not a film I would recommend entering lightly, it should probably come with a trigger warning, all the trigger warnings. Overall, I think I’m going to agree with Margaret and David and give this film 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Short Thoughts: The Return of the King

Thursday night was my sixth Melbourne International Comedy Festival Show for the season. I went to La Mama Theatre in Carlton, my companion and I bought a ticket, we waited until the allotted time to shuffle in, sat down, and realised, this was not the show the thought it would be.

La Mama, it turns out, has two venues. In venue A, where we were, they were showing ‘The Legend of King O’Malley’. In venue B, up the road, they were showing ‘The Return of Eric’, the show I had intended to see. ‘Eric’ is a sketch comedy show performed by Scott Gooding, who taught an amateur acting class I took last year and who I was keen to see perform so I could see him in action, but it wasn’t to be.

So to give you some thoughts on the show we actually saw. ‘King O’Malley’ is a lot of things; musical, Australian political history, comedy, drama, in part surreal, in others not so much, with a strong Faustian undertone. Written by Bob Ellis and Michael Boddy and first performed in 1970, the play has a strong fidelity to the sequence of events that were King O’Malley’s life (at least as far as the wikipedia page indicated, which we looked up while eating frogurt as soon as the show had finished).

The production company is Don’t Look Away, whose raison d’etre is to dedicate themselves to ‘reviving and reimagining classic Australian plays’ (from the program). I came out of the experience feeling as though I had thoroughly failed at knowing anything about Australian history.

The acting was of a high standard across the board, especially James Cook (who appropriately played King O’Malley) and and Alex Duncan (who played Nick Angel, the Devil). Being a musical there was a lot of singing, most of it un-miced in the small theatre, which was all very well done.

The production values were good – there were lots of costume changes, lots of inexpensive but highly effective props and backdrops and the whole thing flowed smoothly throughout. I should also make a special mention of Tom Pitts who provided the musical accompaniment (piano mostly) for the entire two and a bit hour show, plus playing us in and out of the theatre and during interval.

My overall impression of this show was mild confusion. I think this was heightened by the fact that it took until about interval to really be convinced that this was not going to turn into ‘The Return of Eric’, and was not helped by the surreal elements of the play. It probably also didn’t help that King O’Malley‘s life story is somewhat unbelievable*. It was, however, a highly enjoyable evening, and one which prompted much discussion and an interest in Australia political history.

All in all it was a fascinating, fruitful, fun if slightly absurd accidental theatre experience.

 

*Side note: O’Malley was a massive puritan, hated gambling and alcohol among other things, and in true Australian style, instead of getting a suburb in the ACT he got pub named after him.

Dudley

This is my contribution for Day 12 NaPoWriMo – maybe it’s a found poem, maybe it’s blank verse, maybe it’s comedy or maybe it’s just an exploration of what happens when you replace words with Dudley.

Dudley 

Dudley outbreak in local school!
New Dudley flavoured Tim Tams.
Would you allow a Dudley in your house?

Dudleys take on Pope at Vatican audience.
What do we want? DUDLEY! When do we want it? NOW!
Smoke Camels, for that rich Dudley flavour.

My Dudley brings all the boys to the yard.
Is your child up to date with their Dudley shots?
Money can’t buy you Dudley.

Roses are red, violets are Dudley.
Dudley convention a hit!
Ask your doctor if Dudley is right for you.

Archaeologists find Dudley in carpark.
Abbott announces Dudley plan.
I can’t believe it’s not Dudley!

Dudley: have you had yours today?

Shorts Thoughts – Two for the price of one!

Last night was my fourth Melbourne International Comedy festival show for 2014 –  ‘Laughable’ by Jennifer Wong. I feel like I need to tell you how I made the decision to see Wong’s show, because it’s important to me. After having booked my tickets to Frank Woodley and The Boy with Tape on his Face, I decided that I needed to support female comedians.

So I went through the festival website and looked for women I’d like to see. For a few of them, I’d seen bits of on the TV or on youtube and I knew I wasn’t into their style, and then there were a few unknowns. I gathered the names of the unknowns together and googled them (separately, not all together because that wouldn’t have worked).

Now, I don’t know about anyone else, but I find a lot of comic’s material offensive – if it relies on an -ism to get a laugh (racism, sexism, ableism, all the -isms) then I’m not into it. I don’t mind a bit of childish humour, I mean everyone poos, so that’s all good, but occasionally one wants a more sophisticated humour. So when I found a youtube of Jennifer Wong on Channel 31 (a local access TV channel in Melbourne) where she made jokes based on her family and background, but didn’t just make fun of their accents, I was sold. I got to the Forum Theatre in plenty of time for the show, so I sit around for a bit, I go to the toilet, I stand around for a bit more, I look at the time and it’s past the time to start the show and I think ‘I haven’t seen anyone else go in, maybe it hasn’t started yet…’ so I asked the usher and he looked at my like I was stupid (rightly so), and said that the show had started and I should go in.

So I walk in, about 4 minutes late, and sit in a room for about 20 which is only half full. This is the single smallest show I’ve been to ever. Wong is very nice about my lateness, and welcomes me in as I sit in the back of the tiny room. ‘Laughable’ is a show about puns. I like a good pun, but I suspect that I didn’t show my appreciation as well as some of the other patrons because I’ve been schooling my face not to react to the terrible puns inflicted on me by my boss. I therefore apologise for any eye-rolling or sighing that I sent Jennifer’s way – it wasn’t you, it was me, honestly.

The show is interactive, as Wong takes suggestions from the audience and works the suggestions into ‘pun’chlines. With such a small audience I think it would be really hard to keep your energy up, and I have a lot of respect for Wong for standing there and being bubbly and awesome throughout. She is an intelligent, polite comedian and deserves to do well at it, so you should all go to see Jennifer Wong at the Forum. You may roll your eyes, but I think that’s probably allowed and it’s all good stuff!

Here is a youtube, which doesn’t appear to contain punning, to demonstrate:

The observant among you will notices that this post is entitled ‘Two for the price of one!’. After wandering off from the forum I went to the frozen yoghurt place in Swanston St and then wandered over to Fed Square where the Spiegel Tent is set up. Jennifer Wong had mentioned that she was appearing in a couple of other shows – Sam Simmons’ ‘Death of a Sails-Man’ and something else at the Melbourne Town Hall at 11:00pm which I’ve forgotten the name of and now can’t find a link to. I took my frogurt over to the Spiegel tent and saw a massive line of people filing in in an orderly fashion. I thought, ‘maybe I’ll see that show sometime over Easter, could be fun’. It was about that point when I was offered a free ticket to the show by a man who’s friend was apparently unable to attend and I wasn’t about to say no to that!

I vaguely know Sam Simmons because he appears a bit on Triple J, but had no idea what the show was about. Since I was on my own, I was ushered to a seat in the front row, which turned out to be both amazing and sort of frightening. The best way I can describe ‘Death of a Sails-Man’ is to call it a surreal play. It’s really very odd. And quite rude (adult content and swearing). And sort of genius. Maybe. To be honest I’m not really sure what happened during the 60 minute show, but I laughed a bunch and came away feeling confused, slightly soiled, and with a general feeling of happiness.

It’s a good show, if you like feeling like you’re not quite sure what’s going on and there’s a slight danger that something might go horribly horribly awry. There were also lots of props.

By way of example:

I have no more words, so uh, go see some shows!

NaPoWriMo – One to Sixteen

Last night I was thinking about William S. Burroughs and cut-ups, so today’s poem was created by writing sixteen lines, some of which had something to do with each other, others are more like observations of my surroundings. I numbered each line and then used a random number generator to re-arrange the lines into the poem.

One to Sixteen

Let the world remember us
Librarians shush as I walk through
White fellas are always the most important
Or leaves of a sick plant
White fellas are always the most important
My shoes clomp along the street
I carry an umbrella
Other colours have to wait in line
Because it’s raining today
Nothing means anything if no one experiences it
White fellas are always the most important
Peek around corners for inspiration
Some people have purple hair
Without us making our marks so deep
Ella has a favourite restaurant
Locked doors peak interest
Librarians shush as I walk through
Her eyelashes are like feathers
Breathe in, breathe out

Watching Movies: Weekend Overkill

I haven’t done a Watching Movies post for a while, somehow life got in the way of taking myself to the cinema, but I thought I’d make up for it by seeing four films over two days. This post, therefore, will be short reviews of each of the four films, in the order that I saw them.

The Wind Rises (2013)

The first of this weekend’s celluloid dreams was Studio Ghibli’s latest offering ‘The Wind Rises’ at the Cinema Nova in Carlton. From director Hayao Miyazaki, whose other films include ‘Ponyo’, ‘Spirited Away’, and ‘My Neighbour Totoro’, ‘The Wind Rises’ is an animated feature which focuses on pre-WWII Japan. The film’s hero, Jiro Horikoshi is an aeronautical engineer who designs planes which will eventually be used by the Japanese as fighters, the Zero. Jiro and many of the other characters are historical figures, however my Japanese history is pretty sketchy so I just have to trust that the film is accurate-ish.

Miyazaki’s films often involve quite surreal sequences; high fantasy and exaggerated characters which work well in an animated film. While ‘The Wind Rises’ has a couple of dream sequences in which conventional reality takes a back seat, I was surprised by how much of the film was done as realism.

I chose to watch the English dubbed version, over the Japanese language version with subtitles for two reasons; firstly, dubbing jars much less in animated films because they don’t really talk anyway, and secondly, while there will be translation anomolies either way, one can get more words in a dubbed version than in a subtitled version and hopefully that results in a more faithful translation. That being said I’m also not a big fan of having to read the subtitles. The English voice cast was full of people who I recognised, which was also fun; Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Mandy Patinkin, John Krasinski, and Martin Short.

In terms of the plot, this film was a poignant exploration of the life of Jiro leading up to WWII (which is actually not mentioned in the film, but is implied). It was a very interesting portrait of the time period; Japan was quite poor, they were occupying Korea (also not mentioned in the film), it was an interesting time of cross over between traditional Japanese lifestyles and Western influences from clothing to aeronautical designs. Given the film’s time frame, I should have been ready for it to be a sad story, but having seen a couple of Miyazaki’s other films I was expecting it to be a light children’s story. It might be rated PG but I think this is a film made for adults. My friend said he managed to only cry a little bit, and I was very close to tears as well.

Beautifully drawn, in particular the backgrounds are spectacular, and beautifully written; there is surprisingly little dialogue, and it’s all important, this is a moving film well worth a watch. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Rear Window (1954)

The first Saturday night’s double feature at the Astor in St Kilda was ‘Rear Window’. A classic thriller from Alfred Hitchcock, this is the story of the L. B. Jeffries (Jeff), who is stuck in his apartment, in a wheelchair, with a broken leg for what feels like an eternity over a sweltering Manhattan summer. Pre-television, Jeff’s boredom leads him to spend his days watching his neighbours; his apartment faces the back, the rear windows, of several other apartment buildings. In one of these buildings, he sees some suspicious activity and we follow his story as he tries to convince his friends and the police that he’s not just a paranoid curtain twitcher.

To make this film, Hitchcock built all of the apartments on a sound stage. Each apartments has actors playing the inhabitants and they were all given activities to perform. The whole thing seems to have been run more like a play than a film; in particular some of the opening shots are of the camera, set in Jeff’s apartment, panning over each of the apartments giving us a glimpse into the life of the people living there.

Based on a short story, ‘It had to be murder’ by Cornell Woolrich, ‘Rear Window’ has been spoofed and references many, many times. I went into the film without knowing the ending, but assuming it would be similar to ‘The Simpson’s’ version; which it was and wasn’t at the same time.

Despite having been made 60 years ago, the film was suspenseful, and believable. Some of the cinematography dated it a little, particularly the heavy use of soft focus for Grace Kelly, and some of the attitudes and pass-times of the characters placed it at the time, but generally speaking it could easily have been made recently. I did notice the age difference between Stewart, 46, and Kelly, 25, but unfortunately that hasn’t really changed all that much.

All in all, I can certainly see why this film has had such a profound impact on popular culture and is considered a classic. I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Rear Window poster

Rear Window poster

Vertigo (1958)

The second of the Astor’s double feature was ‘Vertigo’ – another Hitchcock film starting James Stewart. This psychological thriller makes ‘Rear Window’ seem like a comedy – it is much darker, and without giving away spoilers, the ending is horribly unsatisfactory. In this film, James Stewart plays a retired police detective who suffers from acrophobia, fear of heights, and gets vertigo, dizziness, whenever he’s somewhere high.

The opening titles of ‘Vertigo’ are a distinctive sequence of receding and advancing spirals. It’s a visual that stays with you and has a certain similarities to a Bond film opening (although with the first Bond film in 1962, ‘Vertigo’ was probably an influence on Bond, rather than the other way around).

Based on a novel, ‘D’entre les morts’, a French crime story by Pierre Boileau, Stewart’s character ‘Scottie’, John Ferguson, is hired to investigate the strange behaviour of the wife of an old college buddy. As the investigation progresses, Scottie falls in love with the woman, played by Kim Novak, and that’s about all I can tell you without spoilers.

Again there are a few interesting gender issues in this film; specifically Kim Novak is also 25 in this film, but Stewart is now 50. Additionally Scottie’s friend Midge is an interesting portrait – a woman who is in love with him, but she seems to be too ambitious, or capable, or career driven, or not pretty enough for Scottie to notice. She’s also supposed to be a college buddy, but actor Barbara Bel Gedes is only 36 and doesn’t quite pull off the concept of being the same age.

The film’s ending is unexpected and not a little distressing. I would be extremely surprised if an ending like that made it past a test screening nowadays! It speaks to Hitchcock’s influence in the industry and to the changing expectations and tolerances of the movie-going public.

Despite the unusual ending and consistently dark tone, this is another classic well worth watching. I’m giving this one 4 out of 5 stars (I dropped it from 4.5 for being a bit long and having an annoying ending).

Die Besucher (Visitors, 2012)

The final film in this epic weekend was ‘Die Besucher’, a German film, which I saw as part of the Goethe Institut Festival of German Films at the Palace Como in South Yarra. The film follows a family as the patriarch, Jakob, tries to break some news that will have an impact on all their lives. The three adult children, Karla, Arnolt, and Sonja, live in Berlin away from the family home in rural Germany. The younger two of the three are still heavily financially dependent on their parents.

This is a character driven film, much more than a plot driven one. The film quietly explores the unspoken conflicts between the six members of this family. Directed by Constanze Knoche, and co-written with Lies Bagdach, this film was made with a very modest budget. They spent several years working on the screenplay and getting the funds together to make the film. It would be easy to assume from watching this, that it was a big budget studio production; the acting is first rate, particularly from Uwe Kockisch who is a prolific and well-respected German actor, the screen-play is extremely tight, each moment of dialogue or silence is perfectly crafted to carry forward the character exploration. It has also been made with high production values, that is to say the the cinematography, sound recording and soundtrack, bear none of the dodgey hallmarks one might associated with a low-budget feature.

My biggest complaint about this film is the ambiguity and apparent tidiness of the ending. To me, it felt like the characters forgave too quickly and the reconciliation seemed unrealistic, however my friend disagreed with my interpretation and didn’t think there was a reconciliation. I can see how both interpretations could be correct. I think there was a part of me that identified strongly with a family whose conflict is unspoken, and so perhaps I was more appalled by the ability to forgive and forget than she was.

Overall a lovingly crafted film which left both of us feeling quite unsettled. It’s not an easy film to watch for reason’s I can’t quite put my finger on. Perhaps it’s the result of a built up of tension over the 90 minutes which does not have a satisfactory release. Even so, this film deserves 4 out of 5 stars.

Unfortunately I can’t find a trailer with subtitles, but this should give you a feel for it:

Short Thoughts: Winter is Coming

Show three of my MICF for 2014 was ‘Winter is Coming‘ performed by Backwards Anorak. As you may be able to tell, the show was a Game of Thrones parody. The first thing I should probably mention is that I’m not a Game of Thrones fan – I’ve never attempted to read the books, and I’ve chosen not to watch the HBO show because the one or two episodes I’ve seen were far to cruel and bleak for me; everyone seemed to hate everyone else and humanity I just didn’t feel nice inside afterwards. I’m sure that it’s a well crafted stroy and all of that, but I’m just not particularly knowledgeable. There I said it!

I am however a bit of a massive nerd about various other fantasy texts, and the references to J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ series and ‘The Hobbit’ found me well, I also enjoyed the ‘Doctor Who’ bits, and the ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ stuff too. Oh, I nearly forgot that Hogwarts is also in Westeros, apparently! I was actually able to get most of the GoT references because of my *cough* slight problem with Tumblr, and the fact that I don’t live under a rock.

Content aside then, how did I rate the performance? My biggest complaint was that the venue did not suit the show. We were in the Music Room at the Trades Hall, which would be fine for a stand-up comic where what they were doing was not so important because it was very difficult to see the performers over the heads of the crowd, and I was only in the middle! It was a smallish room, it probably held 100 people, and most of the seats were taken, so that’s good. It did mean that it was incredibly hot in there though so that wasn’t my favourite thing either.

There were five performers, Michelle Brasier, Vince Milesi, James Baker, Laura Frew & Leo Miles, all of whom appeared to have spent a goodly amount of time in acting classes with improv bases, which at times was great, but at other times made the show feel like they didn’t know what they were doing. I’m sure that the whole thing was meticulously scripted, but as my friend commented as we left, it was a bit like we just saw an acting workshop, not a show – therein lies the danger of acting like you’re not acting so well.

Anyway, if you enjoy loving parodies by nerds, improv theatre, dragons, incent, ambiguous sexuality, beards or singing (which was very good, or Eurovision, which gets a mention too) then I would say this show was a solid choice.

Here’s the trailer: