I rented this almost out of obligation — oh, critical acclaim, some kind of prominent artist behind it all, the Troubles, Bobby Sands. Yes, sure, sounds good for me, let’s scan through it quickly. But I found this film astonishing, powerful and beautiful and brutal and unexpected in its force and aesthetics. I can’t recommend it more highly.

And, yes, it is about the group of Irish prisoners leading the blanket [no uniforms accepted, prisoners naked but for woolen blankets] and dirty [urine spilled into the halls, shit smeared all over the walls] protests, demanding political status from Thatcher’s government, and about Bobby Sands, more centrally, deciding upon a hunger strike and then slowly, painfully whittled away. But Steve McQueen’s focus is on the body, as a complex site of political and aesthetic will. Continue reading Hunger


Wow. I’m not even sure how to describe this psychedelic circus ride of a biopic about Michael Peterson (aka Charles Bronson, his “fighting name”), a violent sociopath who hurls himself into an anarchic “mission of madness” to become something of a national celebrity–a penal performance artist whose numerous hostage incidents have led him to be proclaimed Britain’s most violent prisoner ever. Incarcerated for armed robbery at age twenty-two in 1974, Peterson, at the time of the film’s release, had served thirty-four years behind bars (thirty of those years in solitary confinement). He’s still locked up and I think that’s probably a good thing. Continue reading Bronson

House of the Devil

No matter what the genre, there’s something wonderful about watching a filmmaker so absolutely certain of her methods, so attuned to generic conventions, so confident in his every shot and edit. Ti West has been making low-budget horror films for a couple years, and each was good (the very low-budget The Roost an effective sort-of-meta creature feature, the equally low-budget Trigger Man an even more idiosyncratic and utterly unnerving sniper film). But with House of the Devil, West pulls out his old video library of late-’70s/early-’80s horror films and doesn’t just wholly inhabit their tricks and tone, he recreates and exceeds their pleasures. Manna from horror-fan heaven.

Set in that time period, House gets all the details right: walkman and cheesy AOR rockpop songs, feathered hair, the elaborate teasing exploration of a big old small-town Edwardian home. College student (Jocelin Donahue) strapped for cash, takes against her best friend’s advice (Greta Gerwig) a babysitting gig with Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov. Shit, even *I* know never to take a babysitting gig with Tom Noonan (in full eccentric creep mode, and PERFECT).
Continue reading House of the Devil

Oscar nominees have been announced

Remember, there are now ten…TEN nominees for the Best Picture category. About five too many, I think. Maybe some of them should be combined so we can get back a more manageable number. For instance, Up and Up in the Air can be, simply, Up Up in the Air. And I like the idea of Precious Inglourious Basterds. Seriously, with as many as ten films up for Best Picture, one can easily eliminate about three or four from contention from the get-go. Don’t we all know it’s down to Precious, Inglourious Basterds, and Avatar?

Of course, everybody knows this change for what it is. The film industry wants to have those five other films bear the stamp, “the Academy Award nominated…”, for these next five weeks. And the Academy wants the hype. Continue reading Oscar nominees have been announced

Come the fuck in or fuck the fuck off

I very much enjoyed Armando Iannucci’s film In the Loop (buried after nattering on about The Hurt Locker), but the original series which spawned the film–The Thick of It–is even better.

In the interests of sweeping characterization of national identity, let me say that no one does the comedy of viciousness like the British. There are some great American satires, but such comedies here often counterpose the brute nasty with a sense of sentiment or meaning. Or just soften the blows in other ways — no one is totally ruthlessly mean, or if they are, then someone around them is a counterbalance, a Candide-like innocent protecting the audience from the caustic. But a great vicious British comedy (Waugh, Amis–father or son, Cleese’s Fawlty) mocks everyone and everything. There are no heroes.

Continue reading Come the fuck in or fuck the fuck off