LUC Election Special: The best 5 films about politics

With a week left until we are plunged into the dark heart of Election night 2015, LUC recommends that if you must remain engaged in the political process for the next seven days then you should do it through the medium of cinema. Before you go to vote, watch this ace selection of politically flavoured movies, selected as the best by an entirely non-democratic process by our re-education committee earlier today…

Fifth Place: In The Loop

Although it isn’t quite up to the level of the series that spawned it, In The Loop is a brilliant, cynical and far too feasible examination of the petty careerists that run things. The overarching thesis that the country is at the whim of a small number of psychotically angry scots could end up to be bizarrely prophetic. In a week or two Sturgeon could be screaming abuse at Miliband and storming out with a “Fuckity Bye”.

Fourth Place: Paths Of Glory

Often under-represented in discussions of the Kubrick canon, this bleak portrait of military discipline in the first world war is fantastic both as a literal anti-war film and figurative tale of power and politics. The generals in their chateau are the entitled 1%, lording it over the masses in the trenches doing all the actual fighting. Like certain governments we could mention they use the machinery of social hierarchy and a rigged legal system to keep everyone in line.

You could argue that the character of Colonel Dax, played by a stoic Kirk Douglas, is a kind of tragic proto-Clegg. All his men seem to like him, he certainly acts like he is on their side, but when it comes down to it he is powerless against the aristocratic generals and falls into line.

Third Place: Election

George Orwell created Animal Farm in order to satirise the totalitarianism of the Russian Revolution in a kids book about a bunch of animals. Alexander Payne pulled a similar trick by making this outstanding dark and nihilistic movie about the horrors of politics and corruption masquerading as a high school comedy. Also noteworthy as one of the very few worthwhile things that MTV Films has ever produced, seriously, look at the state of this list.

Runner Up: Bulworth

I don’t want to say too much about Bulworth as it will be featuring in Issue 2 of our quarterly periodical Underclass. However any film where Warren Beatty delivers the political truth in hip-hop rhyme has to be worth 108 minutes of your time.

Winner: Team America World Police

It says something rather wonderful about the development of our civilisation that the most profound film about the nature global politics also features the greatest puppet sex scene committed to film. Containing something to upset just about everybody, Team America baits all sides of the political divide and then somehow satirises itself with the mock profound Dicks, Pussies and Assholes speech at its climax. Does that count as meta-satire?

Birdman review: The Audience is the Unreliable Narrator

In theory, Birdman could be the sort of film that should make you want to bang your head repeatedly against the nearest wall.

It has a gimmick laden set-up, publicity baiting stunt-casting, a soundtrack consisting almost exclusively of jazz drumming and a plot which involves actors doing acting about actors acting.

Birdman-PosterIt is good news for cranial injuries units everywhere that Birdman takes these potentially tiresome elements and forges them into a thought-provoking and entertaining black comedy.

Ex-Batman star, Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, an actor previously famous for playing ”Birdman” in a series of popular action flicks. Thomson is directing and starring in his own serious Broadway adaptation of a Raymond Carver book. After a rogue stage-light cleans out one of the actors, a well-regarded but notoriously difficult method actor, Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) is drafted in by fellow cast member and Shiner’s girlfriend, Lesley (Naomi Watts).

We then follow the battle of wills and associated tantrums as the gifted enfant-terrible and world weary former star compete during rehearsals, falling out over Shiner’s lack of professionalism and Thomson’s lack of authenticity.

The kicker is: while all this is is all going on, we already know that Thomson’s frail mind is constantly pestered by his former alter-ego. He tries without success to ignore Birdman’s voice (directly from the Christian Bale school of growling) attempting to pull him back towards the character and the action franchise he left behind. Like an inverse Fight Club, we know from the very start that Thomson has a split personality and also that he demonstrates what may be genuine super powers (he certainly seems to think so).

The whole film is one continuous unbroken shot, a technical conceit that sounded like it would be a needless gimmick and distracting. The actual effect fits Birdman really well – it reminded me of Gasper Noe’s Enter The Void. In that film, the audience spends ages floating around from the perspective of the ghost, or soul of the dead protagonist, watching life carry on without him. In Birdman the feeling is that of an invisible spectator, albeit one that has access to the world as Riggan perceives it – which considering the fact that he is either a genuine superhuman or depressed schizophrenic actually conveys the role of the unreliable narrator onto the audience – which is a smart move and a rather clever thing to pull off.

What is great is that although the film is clearly a work of intense technical skill and planning, it feels chaotic rather than choreographed. Other long-take scenes (Touch Of Evil, Children Of Men etc) often feel like the audience is on some kind of motorised and carefully orchestrated ride – Birdman manages to avoid this by having the camera dashing around amongst the actors almost like a documentary, rather than swooping gracefully along clearly pre-determined paths.

After a blinding opening third, there is a slightly listless period during which everything slows down, before everything ramps up as the stress of the opening night approaches and Birdman threatens to take over Riggan completely. The effect is that the film loses a bit of momentum, especially during the scenes between Norton and Emma Stone, playing Thomson’s spiky daughter. This doesn’t spoil the overall experience, but feels padded out and a bit extraneous.

From the moment Keaton has an Alan Partridge moment involving a stage door and a pair of white y-fronts, everything is back on course towards the anti-triumphant climax and a further parallel with Fight Club – in that [SPOILER WARNING] shooting yourself in the head from point blank range is a far less exact science than I had previously suspected.

For a film with such an openly ambiguous nature, the ending is suitably open to interpretation, calling to mind the very last moments of Lars von Triers knockabout comedy Breaking The Waves.

LUC ANTICIPATION-OMETER UPDATE

Birdman was one of our most anticipated films of the year – with an anticipated enjoyment score of 7 out of 10. Despite the mid film longueurs, it has enough plus points to get an actual enjoyment score of 7.5 out of 10.

We are therefore 0.5 more entertained than expected. which is a result.

Film Anticipation-ometer 2014 Results

So, 2014 has been and gone – a year characterised by crippling cuts, extreme poverty, geo-political posturing by mad warmongers, racial and religious intolerance, horrific disease outbreaks and planes crashing all over the place with mysterious and scary regularity.

it is time to put these more trivial issues to one side. The passing of the year means that it is time to evaluate whether the ten films that LUC identified as ‘most anticipated’ at the dawn of the year turned out to be as good as we hoped.

Each film will has been carefully analysed and enjoyment levels calibrated. This will enable us to evaluate whether we can add cinematic disappointment to the list of doom that summarises the crisis strewn car-crash that was 2014.

The Double

Anticipated enjoyment: 8 /// Actual enjoyment: 10

Our high hopes for Richard Ayoade‘s second feature were brilliantly exceeded by The Double. We liked it so much that we screened it during our film festival. Stylish, dark, funny and thoughtful – The Double is the best film we saw this year.

The Zero Theorem

Anticipated enjoyment: 7 /// Actual Enjoyment: 3

After a great opening and really engaging first ten minutes or so, this turned out to be a real disappointment. For a film with so many deep themes and weird moments, I’m not sure why it seemed like such hard work to get through. But hard work it was. One of our viewing party got so fed up that they went for a walk. Maybe for a film about the eventual pointlessness of existence, provoking that sort of response is a conceptual success.

Blue Ruin

Anticipated enjoyment: 7 /// Actual Enjoyment: 8

This was a brilliantly tense and highly cinematic revenge flick. Lean and sparse, the plot unwinds tragically in a believable and rather harsh manner. The central performance by Macon Blair as an inept, but determined agent of vengeance is brilliant – anchoring the harsh and brutal plot with an air of fatigue and doomed inevitability. If you haven’t seen it yet check it out ASAP.

Snowpiercer

Anticipated enjoyment: 8 /// Actual Enjoyment: 9

Somehow still not released in the UK (we tried to screen it at the LUC Festival, but the distributor’s wouldn’t let us), our hopes were very high for Bong Joon-ho’s crazy sounding sci-fi train flick. However with the long-running saga of Harvey Weinstein vs Bong and no news of any screenings at all our hopes for actually seeing it were very low.

However, once it was released in other territories we were able to crack open the LUC Bunker piggy bank and get hold of a Spanish Blu-ray copy.

This turned out to be well worth the effort, Snowpiercer is a great movie, marrying action and visual flair with brilliant casting and a strong socio-political criticism. Like many films with Korean heritage it doesn’t let you settle for a second; surprising you with humour at some points then leaving you wincing at some violent onslaught moments later.

If we had managed to see Snowpiercer on a big screen, it may well have been alongside The Double as our film of the year. It does contain the performance of the year from Tilda Swinton as Minister Mason, seemingly the offspring of an unlikely affair between Margaret Thatcher and Alan Bennett. There’s an image for you.

NOTE: Arranging a screening of Snowpiercer is on the LUC to-do list for 2015.

The Rover

Anticipated enjoyment: 8 /// Actual Enjoyment: 8

We were expecting a film as gritty as a gravel enema and The Rover didn’t let us down. It was billed as a post-apocalypse road movie in the mould of Mad Max, but this is more of a ‘during-apocalypse’ story. It predicts a world where capitalism has gone horribly wrong (or horribly right if your name is George Osborne) – civilisation is breaking down as the economy ceases to function.

This harsh backdrop is amplified further by setting the story in the stark Australian desert – which frankly seems like a horrible place.

A troubled (and troubling) loner, Guy Pierce, has his car nicked and sets off on a relentlessly focussed journey to get it back. Suffice to say, this doesn’t go well for most of the people involved, although the world’s most naive weapons dealer only really has himself to blame.

Despite the simplicity of the plot and fairly slow pace, The Rover succeeds because it builds such a convincing world, populated with engaging yet disturbing characters. Pierce and his hostage/sidekick played by Robert Pattinson are both excellent and the strange relationship between them is both intriguing and a bit sad.

Calvary

Anticipated enjoyment: 9 /// Actual Enjoyment: 8

Being a huge fan of the previous collaboration between John Michael Mcdonagh and Brendon Gleeson, The Guard, this was LUC’s most anticipated release of 2014.

A lot of the stuff that made the Guard so great is also present in Calvary, Gleeson is superb, it is brilliant written and acted by a great cast and the central idea of a priest condemned to death by an abuse victim is twisted and strong.

Despite being a really good film, with some genuinely outstanding moments, Calvary didn’t quite live up to expectations. It seemed a bit padded out at times and some of the meta-narrative jokes fell a bit flat. Having said that it was still head and shoulders above almost everything else that we saw in 2014 and is the sort of film that will certainly get better with repeated viewings.

The news that the Gleeson/Mcdonagh axis is working on a third film, The Lame Shall Enter First, about a paraplegic ex copper investigating a murder, is very exciting indeed.

Wrong Cops

Anticipated enjoyment: 7 /// Actual Enjoyment: 5

Not nearly as good as Rubber or Wrong – Wrong Cops is a bit of an endurance test. The short that was released featuring Marilyn Manson was great, but as a full movie it isn’t as entertaining, inventive or surreal as you’d expect. However, Quentin Dupieux’s next film looks good…

The Lobster

This astoundingly intriguing film still isn’t ready, so will be rolled over to our most anticipated films for 2015…

How To Catch A Monster

Something appears to have gone a bit wrong with Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut, it got a bit of a kicking at Cannes by all accounts, the title has been changed to the less interesting “Lost River” and it is now going to be released straight to what is still described as “home video” April 2015.

Which all makes me want to see it more.

Mood Indigo

Unfortunately, due to the ‘blink and you’ll literally miss it’ release of this we didn’t get the chance to see Mood Indigo. Which is a shame because it looked cool.

OVERALL RESULTS…

There was a net enjoyment deficiency of minus four.

After tallying up all the scores and using our cutting edge, cold-war era technology to produce the stunning statistical visualisation below, we can reveal that overall, cinema in 2014 did not quite meet our expectations and can therefore be classified as “mildly disappointing” by future historians.

To end on an optimistic note, 2015 looks like it could be a great year for cool and interesting movies in between the unending cavalcade of comic book adaptations and soulless franchise sequels. Our most anticipated films of 2015 will be published tomorrow!

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The Double & The Zero Theorem – Reviewed

Time to wheel out this year’s iteration of the LUC Anticipation-ometer and see whether the films of 2014 that I got all hot and bothered about previously are worth the bother.

Due to the hectic, recent LUC schedule, cinema visits have been at a premium of late. However a key delegation managed two consecutive Wednesday visits over to snug film womb, The Electric Cinema of Birmingham, to check out these two potentially similar, but equally intriguing movies.

First up was The Double, Richard Ayoade’s adaptation of a Dostoyevsky novella that, let’s be honest, none of us have read. This film has had a while bunch of fairly lukewarm reviews, claiming that it owes too much to Terry Gilliam visually and David Lynch sonically. Well, so what? If you are going to pick some influences you might as well pick decent examples. Anyhow, I’m not sure that such comparisons are entirely fair, The Double has a unique, unsettling and entirely appropriate atmosphere – which to my pretentious eye seemed to have most in common with Orson Welles brilliant version of The Trial.

Layered on top of this atmospheric canvas is the sinister tale of a put upon and deeply anxious man haunted by the sudden appearance of his confident, scheming doppelganger. Jesse Eisenberg is fantastic as the two leads, like Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers but with less terrifying gynaecology. There are a whole bunch of other brilliant actors in it, but I am far too lazy to get into details, apart from pointing out that Chris Morris gets a go at one point. Despite the overall darkness of the plot and atmosphere, The Double is shot through with genuine wit and comedy which fit well with the death and suicide obsessed plot, rather than clashing awkwardly. Also the soundtrack is just fantastic.

In conclusion this is a film that looks and sounds great, weaves an intriguing tale using style and wit, while making great use of some brilliant performances. If I could have re-wound it and watched it again straight away I would have – but we had to go to a Chinese buffet and absolutely nothing needs to be re-wound any more.

You have my permission to punch any beard-stroking hipsters who loftily castigate this movie for leaning towards Brazil or Eraserhead. The Double is a brilliant film in its own right, anyone that tells you otherwise is a total fucking idiot (which in another universe is what Jerry Sadowitz’s film of another Dostoyevsky story is called).

So, onto The Zero Theorem….

The first ten minutes are marvellous. The pretzels at The Electric were great.

Lets leave it at that.

The current state of the LUC Anticipation-ometer 2014:

anticipation 2014 2 films

Most anticipated 2013 films round up

Some time ago (about a year funnily enough) – I chose the 10 films I was most looking forward to in 2013. Now that the year is up, LUC can reveal, with exacting scientific objectivity, how justified the anticipation turned out to be. Of course we are all very busy these days, what with starving to death in Cameron’s Britain and being flooded every five minutes, so for those who don’t want to read the whole lot here is a quick summary…

In summary:

– Upstream Color turned out to be ace and is the LUC film of the year. Stoker, John Dies at the End and Wrong are all gathered together precariously on the bit of the podium for second place.

– They weren’t on the list but I also really enjoyed Jodorowsky’s Dune and Alpha Papa

– I’m really glad I didn’t choose to anticipate Pacific Rim, The Worlds End or Man of Steel as they were all shit

– I should probably make more of an effort to anticipate films that are actually coming out during the calendar year

– It turns out that my actual enjoyment was slightly higher than anticipated. How very satisfying.

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The Last Stand: Anticipation 7/10   Actual Enjoyment 5/10

I had high hopes for this seemingly retro action flick from Kim Je-Woon especially considering he made the bonkers chase epic The Good The Bad and The Weird. Despite some brief bursts of inventive, violent action, The Last Stand was a bit of a dud. It wasted the chance to get some great actors (Peter Stormare, Harry Dean Stanton, Forrest Whitaker) involved in a crazy High Noon meets Vanishing Point plot, leaving us instead with a by-the-numbers affair with leaden expository dialogue grumbled by Arnie. Never mind.

John Dies At The End: Anticipation 6/10   Actual Enjoyment 8/10

There should be loads more films like John Dies At The End, a fantastic, surreal, inventive and funny way to spend 99 minutes. Having scoped the trailer I was cautiously looking forward to it and was pleasantly surprised when it popped up on Netflix (US DNS settings are a great thing). This is the kind of film that you grin all the way through, it is dense with great writing and bizarre moments – I really can’t recommend it enough. Plus it has both The Kurgan and Mayor Clarence Royce in it – watch it immediately.

The Purge: Anticipation 6/10   Actual Enjoyment 4.5/10

Admittedly, I didn’t have huge expectations for this high concept thriller – still it failed to match them. The Purge has an interesting premise involving a future America where the masses are kept down through the use of a one night amnesty on all crime. This sounded like it should be a John Carpenter-ish tense satire, but turned out to be a bit of a standard horror/slasher flick with some mildly pointed moments. It dow feature some excellent masks though.

Upstream Color: Anticipation 6/10   Actual Enjoyment 10/10

Have you heard the term ‘Shelf Classic’? I’m fairly sure it was coined by Adam and Joe to describe the books and music that you buy because you feel you should know about them, but due to their difficult, intimidating or difficult nature just end up sitting there, making your shelf look clever. Good examples include Finnegan’s Wake, Dr Faustus and anything that could be described as ‘Post-Rock’.

I was expecting Upstream Color to be a bit of a shelf classic on the 2013 list. The writer/director/cameraman/catering consultant Shane Caruth’s prior film, Primer is excellent, but almost completely inscrutable. The advance glimpses of Upstream Color certainly gave the impression that we were in for more of the same, perhaps even more so.

While it is certainly true that Upstream Color is just as unconventional and initially labyrinthine as its predecessor, it is the kind of film that wraps you up in the experience of watching it to the point where your lack of understanding is irrelevant and disorientation forms part of the enjoyment.

This is a real work of art, I found it almost hypnotic. While the underlying plot, or at least what you might call a mechanism, is easier to divine than Primer that doesn’t mean that it is anyway more commercial or run of the mill. I thoroughly recommend getting to see this if you can. LUC will definitely be trying to get a screening sorted soon.

Stoker: Anticipation 10/10    Actual Enjoyment 8/10

Almost certainly the film that I was most excited about last year. Due to a criminal lack of places showing it, plus the type of organisational skills most commonly associated with the running of Coventry City Football Club, I managed to miss it at the flicks. Despite a likely-lads style set of measures intended to avoid all spoilers, information and hints at either the plot or quality I heard a few whispers that it was a bit of a disappointment, especially considering the pedigree of the director.

Thankfully when I caught up with Stoker on the smaller screen I found it to be a stylish, twisted treat. It is much closer to Thirst than Old Boy, but none the less a great thriller, which made me all the more annoyed that I hadn’t caught it at the cinema.

Wrong: Anticipation 6/10   Actual Enjoyment 8/10

If you’ve seen Quentin Dupieux’s prior film, Rubber, the ‘surreal with a capital U’ meta-horror/road movie about a killer psycho-kinetic tyre, then you might be ready for just how brilliantly bizarre Wrong is. There’s no point getting into what goes on in this movie – rather like Upstream Color, it is far better described as an experience than a traditional film.

This went down brilliantly in the LUC bunker, but your mileage may vary – this film could very easily be one of the most annoyingly weird, pointlessly arty things you’ve ever seen. It may even depend on what sort of mood you are in, but love it or hate it, you can’t deny that it leaves an impression. The follow up Wrong Cops looks absolutely amazing!

Of the rest of the ‘Most Anticipated’ list, The Counselor came and went in such a hurry that we didn’t get the chance to track it down – it certainly took a bit of a kicking, but I’m still looking forward to catching up with it. Unfortunately Snow Piercer, Under The Skin and The Rover haven’t actually been released – so they will be rolled over to 2014’s anticipation list which will be coming very soon.

The Purge – Review

In my anticipatory comments about The Purge, I guardedly noted that it…

“…could make for a really interesting genre film in any number of ways, it could also make for an appalling straight to video (or I should say straight to DVD/Blu-Ray/Netflix etc) attrocity with few redeeming features.

I’m hoping for the former, but probably expecting the latter, its a similar feeling to when you hear there is a new Morrissey album coming out.”

The_Purge_posterI was maybe hoping for a passable, with some good bits, Southpaw Grammar – but ended up with a rather by-the-numbers Years Of Refusal (with the caveat that All You Need Is Me is very good).

The Purge is rather frustrating as it opens in an intriguing, satirical manner (even if the satire is of the sledgehammer variety) with the eerie preparation for the annual evening of legalised slaughter that a near future US has imposed after some sort of scary political meltdown. The notional rationale (which is never really developed upon) is that it acts as some sort of release valve for the more psychotic side of the population, keeping crime down for the rest of the year. The underlying implication being that it is an excuse for the rich people to murder everyone who isn’t rich.

Via a series of irrational decisions by his creepy kids, the wealthy security system sales douchebag protagonist played by Ethan Hawke ends up on the wrong end of the Purge-ing nutters. I thought this would lead to some sort of western outpost/Straw Dogs siege battle, but it actually lead to about forty minutes of this on a loop:

1. Scared character enters room, inexpertly grasping a weapon

2. We all wait for a mask wearing psycho to scarily jump out at them

3. An indeterminate period of tension building occurs

4. The mask-wearing psycho shockingly attacks, we all jump a bit

5. Someone gets killed

The Purge clocks in at just 85 minutes, but trust me it seems longer – A missed opportunity.

CURRENT ANTICIPATION-OMETER STATUS AFTER 3 of 10 FILMS: DISAPPOINTED

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John Dies At The End – Review

This is the second of the films that I was most anticipating at the start of the year. Following the vague disappointment of The Last Stand, the anticipation-ometer needed a shunt in the right direction – happily Don Coscarelli’s John Dies At The End was far better than I was expecting, from the very opening scene, reproduced below, I knew I was going to enjoy it. In fact, you should watch it right now and if you like it, don’t bother reading the rest of this review – you’ll love the rest of the film .

It is a film that quite nicely defies any sensible attempt at rational description – the plot is a dense mix of weird horror/fantasy demon battling combined with the spread of an alternate-dimension revealing narcotic named ‘soy sauce’. There is also stuff in there about TV psychics, crazy punk bands and the illusion that time is moving in a uniform direction.

If you like a film bursting with ideas – and are prepared to just dive in and see what happens, then JDATE will be right up your dark and foreboding alley. If you prefer a film that doesn’t make you feel like you are at a lecture on quantum physics while heavily stoned, then I’d give it a miss. Personally, as soon as I get the chance, I will be checking out the sequel novel, This Book is Full of Spiders: Seriously Dude, Don’t Touch It.

As I said John Dies At the End thoroughly exceeded my expectations and also gets bonus marks for including a fine turn from Glynn Turman aka Mayor Clarence Royce from The Wire, getting all homicidal in a violently righteous manner.

CURRENT ANTICIPATION-OMETER STATUS AFTER 2 of 10 FILMS: Balanced out

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