Mar 11, 2018

REVIEW: You Were Never Really Here

'What follows is not really a thriller, any more than a Francis Bacon painted   society portraits. Adapted from Jonathan Ames book, it does to Liam Neeson revenge-flicks roughly what Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver did to the Death Wish movies: it breaks the genre up and boils it down to a lean 85 minutes, driven by a central performance by Phoenix as bruised and bloody and tender as sirloin. If the test of great acting is to make it physically impossible to imagine the actor in any other role than the one you were watching, then Phoenix here nuzzles up to the greats. He acts with his entire body, the way the silent movie actors used to, starting with his shoulders, hunched like a grave-digger’s, and moving down a white, pudgy paunch, lacerated with scars and slack with self-neglect, as if the harm he doles out to others is just overflow from the harm he dishes out to himself. Some actors make you worry for what they will do to others. Dangling himself idly from a train platform, Phoenix makes you worried for what he will do to himself.  Sometimes suicidal is more dangerous that homicidal. The performance is, in other words, everything Ryan Gosling thought his was in Drive and wasn’t. The violence, when it comes, is almost a relief from from the twitchy flashbacks— images of asphyxiation from to Joe’s childhood, and his experience in the Gulf war — that assail him like panic attacks. Ramsay’s powers of obliquity come into their during Joe’s one-man invasion of a brothel, shot and edited using only grey security cam footage showing Joe’s path: a door opens on one floor, a hammer  blurs in the corridor of another, a body crumples in a third and so on, all to the sound of Rosie & the Originals ‘Angel Baby’ on the soundtrack, interrupted with every cut. What Ramsay seems to understand as perhaps no filmmaker has since John Boorman in Point Break,   is that what makes violence violent is not physics it’s internal thermodynamics: the damage done to souls not bodies. It’s a film about damage.'— from my Sunday Times review

Mar 5, 2018

REVIEW: A Fantastic Woman (dir. Lelio)

'In another filmmaker’s hands —Almodovar, say — Marina might have been a tower of righteous, high-heeled indignation, delivering one stinging retort after another. Lelio’s has loosed such a force of nature before, in his  2013 breakthrough film, Gloria, about a divorced 28-year-old on the single circuit, determined not to go gently into the good night. Here, he takes the opposite tack, with mixed results. We don’t see Marina’s grief for a long while. Instead, she takes out her anger on a small punching bag that hangs by the door of her apartment and numbly walks the streets of Santiago, seeing Orlando everywhere. It is a fiercely internalized performance — the anti Almodovar — Vega’s expression hovering between quiet dignity, sublimated anger and a look of steely defiance that is, in turn, further provocation to the outside world. There is a thread of masochism here — Marina’s refusal to explain or defend herself edging into something more belligerent and self-martyring. When bruises on Orlando’s body draw the attention of a detective (Amparo Noguera)  who specializes in sex offenses, Marina skips appointments and obfuscates, and thus has to endure a humiliating physical examination. “How should I treat him?” whispers the medical orderly as if she were not standing right there. This is awful but it was avoidable: the detective was initially sympathetic.  You may lose count of the number of scenes in which Marina is taunted, insulted, threatened, roughed up, or labelled a monster, with Vega rising above it all, a wronged saint, impassive and long-suffering. The conception of her character is at times only a trifle more nuanced than that punching ball.' — from my Sunday Times review

REVIEW: I, Tonya (dir. Gillespie)

'The casting of Robbie is not the only debt the film owes Scorsese. Directed with winking brio by Gillespie, who made Lars and the Real Girl, and told in mockumentary form, featuring multiple unreliable narrators, a cast of gotta-love-em white trash sociopaths, and a script that would bring a blush to the cheek of a sailor, the film is essentially Goodfellas on ice. And if that sounds like fun, it is, for most of the time. The script, by Steve Rogers, performs a balletic reversal of audience sympathies around the issue of class. In a sport dominated by lissom, long-limbed pixie-figures whose smiles seemed stuck in a fifties time-warp, Harding was the ugly duckling, picked on by the press as “white trash” and “old Thunder Thighs”: a hardscrabble, rough-edged scrapper with garish blue eye-shadow and home made costumes who stubbed out cigarettes on the blade of her skates, strutted out onto the ice and nailed perfect arabesques to an accompaniment of ZZ Top, hurling expletives at any judges who docked her marks for deportment. What’s not to love: a  world-class female sociopath to root for the same way we did De Niro’s wise-guys in all those Scorsese films. Robbie is slimmer and prettier than the stocky Harding  — she’s a swan playing a duckling — but she digs in and gets something of her fierce survival instincts. A street fighter raised in  trailer home in Portland, Oregon, by her viper of a mother LaVona (Allison Janney), Harding is pushed onto the ice aged three, while mom sits on the sidelines, sucking down whiskey and swearing like a tevedore. “You skate like a graceless bull dyke!” LaVona screams, and later, at competitive events, slips twenties to spectators to do the screaming for her, to sharpen her daughter’s  edge. It’s a phenomenal turn by Janney, an exultant, extended riff  on her chain-smoking pageant mom in Drop Dead Gorgeous, without vanity, redeeming virtue or apology, and horribly funny. The bluntness of La Vona’s cruelty jolts you into shocked laughter, despite yourself. Refusing to give her daughter a bathroom break, forcing her to pee herself, LaVona barks,  “skate wet!” — from my Sunday Times review