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Category: Film

Whiplash and the Dangerous Myth of the Suffering Artist

Spoilers lie ahead.

I finally got round to watching Whiplash. It’s a great film about a drummer, Andrew in a prestigious school who wants to be the best jazz drummer that ever existed. He’s shooting for genius, nothing less. He manages to draw the attention of the best music teacher in the school, Fletcher. Only problem is, Fletcher is a bully and his methods are abusive and dangerous.

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Making it up as you go: Twin Peaks and Welcome to Nightvale

Spoilers ahead

I spent a highly enjoyable few months last year watching Twin Peaks, both the original seasons and the revival. Even now, twenty-seven years after the original series debuted, it remains a strange mix of police procedural and occult mysticism. The revival plunges even further into the mysticism and dream elements of the show. It’s not always entirely clear what the story is, but as an experience it is incomparable. Many parts of the show work on a dream logic, with images and moments that only seem to make sense in a subconscious way. The last episode, in particular, is terrifying, even though I could not fully articulate why.

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Enduring art (Same as it ever was)

I was listening to the rather excellent Book Shambles podcast the other day. It is a rambling discussion about books and literature, usually with a guest to guide the discussion. One of the hosts, Robin Ince, mentioned The Great Gatsby, saying that every time he reads it he finds new insight in its pages. It’s my experience that despite being a relatively slim novella, the complex characters and removed perspective provides a wealth of wisdom and observations. It got me thinking about art that endures throughout your life, that helps to shape you at different moments. I think this is one of the qualities of the best art, that each time you go back to it it is richer and more in-depth than before. Re-readings and re-watchings allow for greater emotional impact, instead of diminishing returns. The art endures throughout your life.

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The Ambiguity of Captain Fantastic

Captain Fantastic is a brilliant film. Sensitive and compassionate, it tells the story of a family isolated from society, who are forced to go cross country to attend their mother’s funeral. In doing so, they have to enter mainstream society for the first time. It is remarkably beautiful, with an excellent script and nuanced performances, especially from the children and Viggo Mortensen as Ben.

Ben is a dropout from society, obsessed with Noam Chomsky. He has removed his children from society and taken them deep into the woods. There, he raises his children on a steady diet of exercise and books, forcing them to think deeply and analyse what they read. He is anti-society and anti- establishment and forces these views on his children.

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Stranger Things and the art of Pastiche

There be spoilers ahead

Last week, I binge-watched Stranger Things on Netflix. It’s been awhile since I mainlined a tv show like that, but Stranger Things is worth it.

The plot involves a boy going missing in a small Indiana town, a mysterious government facility and a girl with telekinetic powers. There’s teenage parties and a monster that stalks the town. Basically, it’s a combination of many different eighties movies and books, most notably Poltergeist, ET and Stephen King books. Look at the main logo for example, a pitch perfect recreation of eighties horror titles. It’s also brilliant. A gripping mystery that builds to a fantastic climax, with unique, interesting characters.

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Ponyo and Adaptation

Ponyo is a joyous film, a celebration of childhood and youth with beautiful visuals. It’s pure joy from start to finish, with inventive twists and a unique style. Generally, Studio Ghibli films are among some of my favourites because of the rambling yet emotional stories that feel very different to any other film. This film is no exception, with a wide ranging plot involving prehistoric fish and mysterious spirits of the sea.

Ponyo is the story of a fish who is swept ashore and rescued by a human boy, Sōsuke. She refuses to return to the sea and wants to be human, which throws the whole balance of nature off kilter. The only way she can survive is to have a true kiss with Sōsuke and then become fully human, or else become sea foam.

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‘Birdman’, Superhero Films and Spectacle

Riggan: How about Jeremy Renner?
Jake: Who?
Riggan: Jeremy Renner. He was nominated. He was the Hurt Locker guy.
Jake: Oh, okay. He’s an Avenger.
Riggan: Fuck, they put him in a cape too?

One of the best and most inspired films I’ve seen recently is Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), a fantastic multi-layered meta commentary on hollywood and the creation of art. It features Michael Keaton as an middle-aged actor struggling to make what he sees as ‘real art’, after playing a superhero called ‘Birdman’ twenty years ago. This superhero, or possibly his diseased mind, torments him throughout the film. It taunts him about his perceived lack of talent and asking why he’s bothering to attempt a serious play on Broadway. Near the film’s climax, the Birdman appears and directly taunts the audience, showing them explosions and fast action, before turning directly into the camera and saying:

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Thoughts on ‘High Rise’

Last Saturday, somewhat spontaneously, I went to see High Rise, the newest film by Ben Wheatley. I’d previously seen Sightseers and A Field in England and enjoyed them both. The later wasn’t wholly successful, but it felt very different to any other film I’d seen before.

High Rise looks like his most conventional film yet, given its slick advertising and Hollywood stars like Tom Hiddleston and Sienna Miller. However, it manages to be much more shocking and unconventional.

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