Thursday, October 15, 2009

LFF: The Man Who Stared At Men Who Stared At Goats

Thursday's report from the LONDON FILM FESTIVAL with Dave, sitting in the very nice National Film Theatre as he awaits yet another screening. You may find him propping his eyes open with cocktail sticks this time next week.

The Men Who Stare at Goats is the worst type of film you can get out of mainstream Hollywood - yes, worse even than nude women being chased by knife-wielding maniacs, because at least those films are working to provide pleasure to their audience, no matter how immature and gross that may be. (Alright, so maybe not. But almost!) No, what we have in The Men Who Stare at Goats, aside from an irritatingly long title I'll get fed up of typing out soon, is a smug, idiotic film, so convinced it's hilarious in its ironic absurdity and 'look at all this oddness; it's great they can be odd, of course, but hahahaha, isn't their oddness funny!' attitude. I'm sure the writer would argue he's all for oddness and love not war, but it portrays all these attitudes so ludicrously that it seems to be screaming for straight-laced normality under all the madness. It all relies heavily on stupidity, most notably the paranoid superiority-complex of the American army; as they say, "We can't afford to let the Russians lead the way in paranormal research!" I can probably sum up the film's failure in one repeated joke it uses: Lynn Cassidy's (George Clooney) pyschological army troupe are known as "Jedis", and he repeatedly emphasizes that Ewan McGregor's reporter Bob Wilton doesn't have these Jedi powers. If such jokes might amuse you enough to overlook an unbearable plucky score, no apparent aptitude for using sound or image in an inventive fashion, and McGregor's ever-terrible American accent, maybe this one's for you. D

The frequently abstract and painful Wolfy is as icy and cold and devastated in appearance as you might expect from a Russian film. The subject - a little girl hopelessly desperate to hold onto her wandering, loose, volatile mother - is dealt with in a similarly detached way, what with the emotionless retrospective narration, but the artistic aesthetics embue the film with bountiful emotion. Take the first scene, for example - spots of blood on the crisp white snow as the pregnant mother runs from police across the cold expanse. Or a spellbinding, languid zoom out as the mother spins her daughter a story. It's an unsettling, powerful sit, ultimately uncompromising in its grim attitude towards this 'family', but it's also beautiful in its use of perspective, camerawork and particularly the soundscape, from the eerie sound of the spinning top to the harsh, halting Russian language. B+

Balibo is another accomplished Australian film at this year's fest, even if it does contain the niggling question (explicitly asked within the film): why does this story have to be centered on Australians when they are the tiniest fraction of those murdered in Indonesia's invasion of East Timor? Nevertheless, the tale - one of thousands recounted years later once the country was liberated - is an absorbing one, complimented by the loose, observational camerawork and some strong work from Anthony LaPaglia (as the journalist investigating the deaths of five Australasian reporters sent to the country ahead of the invasion). While the sharp editing keeps things tense and gripping for much of the film, the continual flirtation with the greater storyline proves distracting, as the film acknowledges the entire tragedy but defiantly sticks to this one story. B

17 comments:

NATHANIEL R said...

Didn't LaPlagia also star in Lantana? or am i making that up. false memory. Getting good roles in the aussie films...

Russian films intrigue me so I was interested to read about Wolfy. Their Oscar submission a couple of years ago Mermaid was pretty good.

NATHANIEL R said...

oh and if my own experience at film festivals is any indication, don't joke about cocktail sticks in your eyes. The eyes do start feeling the wear and tear... you'll be nodding off in films you actually love in no time!

jbaker475 said...

That review of "...Stare at Goats" was um...I mean, DAMN. I wasn't expecting the film to be a towering work of genius, but I wouldn't have expected it to evoke such vitriol either. Yikes...

Chris Na Taraja said...

Actually, telling Ewan McGregor that he doesn't have jedi powers is amusing to me. Different strokes I guess. The movie does look potentially stupid, but stupidity that I might like.

Robert Hamer said...

"...and he repeatedly emphasizes that Ewan McGregor's reporter Bob Wilton doesn't have these Jedi powers."

Won't be seeing THIS movie.

Drew said...

On Balibo: to be fair, it's the first film made about the invasion of East Timor, not necessarily the only film. The fact is that it's an Australian-made film so it's natural that the Australian characters are going to be the focus of the story. You don't watch "The Deer Hunter" and complain that it wasn't all about the South Vietnamese, because the film has a different frame altogether.

Personally I think Balibo handled the balance extremely well and the portrayal of Jose Ramos-Horta really helped in that respect. Don't forget that it's also a film about journalism and, in LaPaglia's case, a powerful (and factual) character transformation, and in my opinion the depiction of the invasion was just as affecting with these other aspects.

Michael said...

yep nat, laPalgia was in Lantana. Missed Balibo in cinemas, hope to catch its DVD release.

Glenn said...

Nathaniel, you should revisit (or visit for the first time, I can't remember) Lantana.

In regards of Balibo, the tale of "the Balibo five" is one of the most important moments in Australian history. There was a fine TV miniseries a few years ago called Answered by Fire, which followed the East Timorese vote for independence, which happened several decades after when Balibo is set. It starred David Wenham btw.

Drew said...

Nathaniel... isn't LaPaglia Australian? And Lantana is wonderful.

Guy Lodge said...

Wow, we were in "Wolfy" together and still missed each other? There were only about 20 of us there! I'm the one with blond hair and glasses always on the aisle seat ;)

Anyway, I completely agree with you about the film. That said, I thought "Goats" was grand, silly fun, so what do I know?

Catherine said...

I don't know about the film version, but I cannot stand Jon Ronson (the writer of the original book) so I loved your spew-filled review.

Rob said...

As someone who loved the book, the film strays far enough (presenting it all as a fun, weightless, silly lark), that you should still enjoy yourself at "Goats" even if you hate Ronson.

Frankly,I don't understand how someone could work up the level of loathing you did for this funny, enjoyable -- if a bit light -- movie. And that's partly because your capsule didn't really make me understand why you hated it so much besides giving an example of a joke (one I found funny). Meh, different strokes.

Dave said...

Drew & Glenn: That's fair enough. I think I made a bigger deal out of it in the post that it really felt to me; just having brought it up within the movie felt a bit of a cheap way of dismissing that criticism. Also, I didn't mention Jose Ramos-Horta purely for space reasons, but I agree his strong portrayal really added to the film.

Rob: I was being a bit glib with choosing that particular joke, which was at least slightly different from the humour it mostly shot for. Which I also disliked, hence the vitriol. I'm not expecting everyone to agree with me, I just thought it was ridiculously arrogant in how hilarious it thought it was.

Guy: You may have been right in front of me, for all I know. You didn't happen to be wearing a flat cap, did you? I have red hair so I'm not that hard to spot, really. We've got to meet at some point, surely.

Guy said...

Indeed, that was me in the flat cap! (Not a regular accessory, I might add ... I was having hair trouble.)

moviefreak said...

That's the worst review I have read so far for " Goats " yet and it's one person's opinion. I do find it hard to hate something with that many capable actors in the cast. And it is supposed to be a wink wink, don't take this too seriously story because what they attempted was absurd in the first place. Anyway because a lot of it is based on hush-hushed facts. Our government never ceases to amaze me. That is a whole other topic of discussion. But I will be seeing the movie. I like the premise. It's original.

Janice said...

Dave, I haven't seen the film yet (if I ever do) but the vibe I got from the trailer was pretty much as you describe in your review - and the trailers are supposed to contain the good stuff. It looked to be all about "ironic" and self-referential joking (Ewan McGregor and the Jedi joke, Cloony playing off his leading man image - which is becoming its own cliche - Jeff Bridges playing off his "Dude Lebowski" role - also it's own cliche except that damn it I adore the man -etc.)

FilmXtremist said...

Has anyone heard anything about the Starsuckers film that'll be on at the LFF? It evoked quite a reaction from George Clooney at his Q&A. His film might not be good but his comments about the press were pretty strong! Check out the trailer http://starsuckersmovie.com/trailer/