This post was first published on http://www.stuff.co.nz on 31st July 2013
When I lived in London, my mobile phone message told callers I was probably in a tunnel or a cinema. Having seen more than 20 films in the last week and half, I find that life feels very much the same way now.
So I took it easy over the weekend, entering the darkness only to see Hitchcock’s wonderful Dial M for Murder on Saturday night – in 3D, no less, which is a technological advance I’d naively not realised was around back in his day. I loved it. The relentless dialogue (something I’m quite partial to if well written, which this is) keeps the momentum up for a snappy 106 minutes, as a married man suspects his cheating wife and devises an ingenious plot to get rid of her. Golly, that Hitchcock was one smart fellow I’d not have wanted to live with. The plotting is suspenseful as the supposedly perfect crime starts to unravel. Far from having knives and flailing arms jump out of the screen at you, the 3D merely adds depth of field. What a perfect film.
Back to the world of serious documentaries, I joined a large crowd next day for Dirty Wars. Clearly New Zealanders love a movie about Evil America killing innocent civilians in foreign lands. Investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill goes to great lengths to uncover military wrongdoing in an Afghan village whose people died in a botched US raid. It’s harrowing stuff as we watch mobile phone footage of a family dancing in celebration who, within hours, will be rendered lifeless, their bodies butchered. Scahill’s particular feat is in crafting his non-fiction story more like the latest Hollywood thrillers, which in turn adopt a documentary-like shooting style. Though he eschews reconstructions, Scahill still manages to take us right into the heart of the problem. It’s fascinating, gripping, and deeply troubling.
Just as disturbing is the more first world problem of privacy on the internet. How apposite that while our country is protesting at the Government’s intention to bring in privacy-slashing legislation, I watched another US documentary, Terms and Conditions May Apply. How many of us read the terms when clicking into a new app, website or update? I’ve always foolishly assumed that there couldn’t possibly be anything bad in them, and it turns out most people are the same. Plus, I don’t have a spare year in my life to read all that fine print.
Well, more fool me. And you. This deeply alarming film does a Michael Moore on social media, the Googles and Amazons, and on various phone companies (admittedly in the States – but it’s all just a template for the rest of the world). Far from being dry or obvious, filmmaker Cullen Hoback manages to inform (i.e. perturb) and entertain. Did you know Facebook employs 25 people solely to work on US agency surveillance applications? The axiom “I have nothing to hide” no longer applies.
After all this non-fiction, a few “normal” narrative-driven tales were in order. 2 Autumns, 3 Winters is a gentle little French romcom with a distinctly Amelieesque taste. Thirty-three-year-old Arman talks directly to camera in recounting the trials of his latest love affair. His tale is interspersed with comment from the girlfriend in question, ironically named Amelie, and their two friends. It’s sweet, it’s witty; there are pop references and quirky supporting characters. The charm of the film, divided into opaquely entitled chapters, started to wear thin as it went on, but there is delight to be had in the beautiful aesthetic and the dulcet tones of the French language.
Much more gritty and for me more fulfilling, What Richard Did poses the titular question and keeps you on edge until it is answered. Richard is a well-adjusted, parentally-loved and popular Dublin lad. Beloved by his friends and rugby team-mates, his 18-year-old life seems assured. When tragedy calls, the situation is as devastating for its plausibility as its narrative impact. The film’s triumph is Jack Reynor’s portrayal of Richard – in such a story you need a protagonist you can understand, admire, and ultimately root for even if with reservations. Reynor manages all this, flawlessly embodying the lad who had it all, his future now horribly in peril.
To cap off a few days’ gentle viewing, a jaunt into Terrence Malick territory for To the Wonder. One wonders how many people in the audience chose it for “the movie with Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams and that chick from Oblivion.” They should have learnt their lesson from last year’s “Brad Pitt movie”, Tree of Life.
Malick is masterful at collating images (the photography is frame-by-frame sensational) and an incredible soundtrack, with maybe a spot of narrative but very little dialogue. The script here, amounting to surely no more than a page, consists of whispery voiceovers in French, Italian and Spanish, while Affleck drifts in and out of frame only to convey he’s not very good at communication, or possibly commitment, either. Meanwhile, Olga Kurylenko and McAdams get to swoon over him in different unspoken ways.
The incessant pirouetting and childlike fascination expressed by the lovely Kurylenko starts to irritate eventually, but if you suspend your cynicism and let Malick do his magic, To the Wonder will deliver a very affecting cinematic experience.