Rigged elections, living legends, the bachelorette party from Hell, and a shotgun wedding.
This time next week, I will be arriving in London. For two full weeks, I will be down there attending the London Film Festival as an officially credited member of the press. I will be attending as many screenings as possible, all over London, mostly at cinemas I have never been to in areas I’ve never been to, as something approaching a professional film critic. I shall be writing daily dispatches about the films I’ve seen and the experiences I’ve had for The Hullfire that you will be able to read each morning. And I will be doing this all by myself, with no backup if anything goes wrong, and I’m cashing in every last penny I have to try and pull this off.
And I am absolutely fucking terrified.
Part of this is because I am a general worrywart who doesn’t like change and is pathologically afraid of anything he can’t control adequately enough – traits picked up from my overbearing Mother, and an adolescence spent constantly being reset to square one socially – and a sudden two-week sojourn to London has far too many unknown variables that I am not comfortable with. The area is mostly foreign to me, I’ve never been a member of the press at a film festival before and have no idea how that whole thing works, I’ve never even been to a film festival before, London is very expensive and me and my family are not exactly financially comfortable, I know nobody in the area or even anybody who is going (barring one and I doubt we’ll even see each other at any point)… That kind of stuff. But that’s all the kind of fear that can be offset through a combination of mass planning (which is of course being done) and looming excitement.
Except that I’m not excited, and I haven’t really been all week. Instead, I’ve been fucking terrified. In a way, this experience will be everything that I’ve wanted for going on six and a half years: an officially credited member of the film press, attending an official film festival with other professional film critics, in order to report back to the general public on the quality of the films on display with insightful and entertaining writing (minus the “getting paid” part). But that fact is doing everything except reassuring me. I feel like a fraud – that’s a thought that has passed through my head a lot this past week. I feel like I have no right to be there, I’m woefully lacking in wider film knowledge compared to everyone else, and look at my work ethic over the past 12 months, it’s been atrocious, and the actual quality of what I have put out, which is mostly slap-dash Box Office Reports anyway, is nowhere near good enough for somebody in my position.
And what if I hate it? Or worse, what if I go and I don’t become rejuvenated as a writer? That’s my biggest fear. My lack of writing over the nine months I was at uni could be explained away as my workload being too hectic to even bother attempting, but a post-uni life where I have nobody to talk to or socialise with or any job prospects or life events or such has no excuse. Burnout is just burnout. Almost every article I’ve written since the beginning of June has been forced out to some degree, and no amount of excuses can seem to adequately square away the problem that’s staring me straight in the face: do I even want to do this anymore? What happens if effectively being given what I want doesn’t actually change anything and I come away no longer wanting to do the thing I’ve been wanting to do to some degree for over half of my life? How am I going to cope? Everything else in my life is currently resetting to zero or being painfully stripped away, what am I supposed to do if the one constant that I have been certain of throughout much of my life also goes? What happens then? What do I really want, can it make me happy, and can I even be happy?
You’ll be able to find my daily London Film Festival dispatches over on The Hullfire (thehullfire.com) from October 6th through to October 17th, with them making their way to this site the week after.
Here’s what I’ve been watching this week.
Election [Sunday 18th]
Dir: Alexander Payne
Election is a brilliant example of how to pull off a “he-said, she-said, editorially-distant” narrative, where a film refrains from openly telling you how you’re supposed to feel about its cast but giving each character more than enough rope to hang themselves with so that it is indisputable as to who is really the worst of the worst here. All of Election’s cast are terrible people, at best unintentionally (with Paul’s complete dimness and total lack of awareness as to what’s going on in anybody else’s life causing him to frequently say the worst most insensitive thing without him even realising it) and at worst in the most malicious way possible whilst pathetically trying to justify their horrendous behaviour (with Mr. McAllister effectively being a repressed misogynist with a giant ego and a perpetual victim complex). Nobody is truly innocent, with even Tammy trying to game the education system and all authority figures in her life into getting her sent to a Catholic School where she can indulge her lesbian urges, and, best of all, nobody really learns anything come the epilogue, all remaining awful or miserable people in their own unique ways.
That part is what I love the most about Election, especially since my alarm bells were set blaring as soon as Dave’s grooming of Tracy Flick was first brought up. The multiple narration conceit is used correctly, to provide all of the perspectives, each biased in their own certain ways, so that the viewer can sort out the truth from each of them and discover more about each character’s true nature thanks to that time spent looking at the world through their eyes. But the film remains above it all, holding an opinion of its own that it wants you to share but not descending from upon high to editorialise to your face what the correct viewpoint is. Instead it trusts that viewers are smart enough to infer for themselves that Tracy Flick is difficult, obnoxious, and more than a little high-strung, but is still highly-qualified, motivated, no worse than any man who pulls off the same antics and therefore, also as a result of a pushy and quietly negging mother, is destined to remain alone and depressed. I’ve read many takes that argue that she’s a misandrist serial-manipulator and that McAllister is just a Nice Guy Done Bad By Women, but that’s the risk you take when making a film this way and Election is brilliantly entertaining regardless.
Daft Punk Unchained [Monday 19th]
Dir: Hervé Martin-Delpierre
How far can a Daft Punk documentary really go? If you want to examine their impact and influence on popular music both today and throughout the years, then all one needs to do is listen to Homework, or Discovery, or Random Access Memories or even Human After All and Alive 2007, then any Dance music or many Pop songs over the last two decades to immediately get it. If you want to examine them as people, it’s near-impossible a task since Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo intentionally keep themselves mysterious and private in order to add to the fun of the Daft Punk experience. So a Daft Punk documentary can really only be the visual and audio equivalent of a Wiki skim, which is what Daft Punk Unchained turns out to be. It’s not bad, it especially does a good job at explaining the importance of That Coachella Show. More just hobbled from the get-go, and it at least made me desperate for an Alive 2017 tour again.
Come Drink with Me [Tuesday 20th]
Dir: King Hu
Have I mentioned before that I love me a good wuxia or martial arts movie? Cos I do, I love both of them, very much so. Come Drink with Me is rough and scrappy but in this purposefully designed and choreographed way that’s both charming and betrays that this was most likely the height of Hong Kong filmmaking skill in the mid-60s. I don’t mean that as an insult, you understand, that scrappy dichotomy of everybody involved knowing exactly what they want to make and having to push up against technological restraints in order to pull it off is quite captivating, more so than the plot which is fine but a little too basic and also clearly missing about 10 minutes from its climax. Hu does excellent work on individual scenes, however, especially with regards to drawing out the tension in a scene, in both the lead up to and in between the sudden bursts of purposefully messy violence throughout the film, with the temple ambush being a standout in that regard. The Netflix version I watched also did an interesting thing where the subtitles had all of the villains misgender Golden Swallow as a man to her face until she started kicking all of their arses, but I can’t tell if that was intentional or just shoddy translating.
BoJack Horseman Season 3 [Sunday 18th – Wednesday 21st]
I’m hopefully going to write about BoJack Horseman properly in the near-future – but no promises, since my writing consistency has been spotty for a long while now – so instead allow me to join the chorus proclaiming Season 3 to be some of the finest work that the show has yet done, and even argue that it does a better job at coming together as a whole than Season 2 did by virtue of this being the first time the show hasn’t whiffed the finale in any way. It’s dark as hell, but oddly therapeutic, its handling of depression of various kinds and self-destruction to me feeling much like the women at the abortion clinic in “Brrap Brrap Pew Pew” when they note that sincerely joking about it (in their case the “it” being abortion) makes dealing with it easier for them. This all said, I really hope that show creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg has an ending and end date all set, and that said are no more than two seasons from now. Where this season ends… there really is not much further down it can go, and there’s only so much more running in circles it get away with, even if that is the point, especially since it’s now hit its “Breaking Bad Season 2 finale” moments.
In any case, if you haven’t, you really need to give BoJack Horseman a watch. I’m down on basically all of the acclaimed Netflix shows I’ve tried (Daredevil really isn’t grabbing me), but this one really is the real deal.
David Bowie: Five Years [Thursday 22nd]
Dir: Francis Whately
I mention this one-off hour-long television special I threw on that morning because I wanted to stave off getting dressed and doing work for a little bit longer in order to give some advice to any budding David Bowie documentarians out there: don’t. Don’t even try. Not unless you can get the money, scope, and time to make it, say, 15 instalments at an hour a piece, at least. Any less and you’re going to end up with a surface-level look at Bowie The Man, Bowie The Music, and Bowie The Icon that doesn’t do any one of those parts justice and tells the audience nothing. So, don’t. Also because I’m almost certain that you’ll condense the entire period of 1984 – 2003 into one episode or 10 minutes of film, and I’ll get livid with you as a result.
Bachelorette [Friday 24th]
Dir: Leslye Headland
Bachelorette is two half-finished “great” films stuck together as the “pretty alright” one that exists for us all to watch. See, the first half is brilliantly bracing. A blisteringly deconstructive middle-finger to the kind of bawdy or mean-spirited rom-coms (and just coms in general) like Wedding Crashers or The Hangover that would usually play all this stuff straight and consequence-free, displaying the characters we’d normally sympathise with and root for as how they and their behaviour would look to other people. So the nominal protagonist who is quietly having a mid-life crisis is actually a mean, vindictive, sociopathic control-freak; the burnout best friend is a deeply miserable, bitter, traumatised, unfit-for-modern-society hanger-on; the spacey comic-relief is on a life-threatening drug bender and in no fit state to make any consensual decisions. The dark and offensive ribbing is actually super mean-spirited and hurtful, the kind of friendships that are presented as cool and fun are shown to actually be toxic and self-serving, and so on. It’s funny, the right amount of cringey, and Headland is clearly having a blast in getting to indulge some truly terrible women.
Then, right after the film drops a bombshell that would seem to mark the point of no return, it switches gears and pulls a BoJack Horseman – albeit one before BoJack Horseman was even a thing, look shut up. We’ve actually met all of these characters at their lowest, their worst, their most reprehensible, with their coke binge trying and failing to mask their sadness, so now understand why they are so bitter and hateful and watch them try to become better people and reaffirm their friendships on genuine levels. That’s fine too, as it’s also got some entertaining funny moments, some of the darkness of the first half creeps back in (including a possible suicide attempt that’s played off in the goofiest manner), and the few actually touching scenes (like Kirsten Dunst’s reconciliation with Rebel Wilson) do land. But the whole doesn’t quite work. Partially cos the end goals of the two halves have only minimal overlap, but mainly since, as with the also very-good-bordering-on-great Sleeping With Other People, Headland cannot resist ending things far too neatly by playing the same harmful rom-com clichés she initially set out to deconstruct straight, including a public proposal that even Adam Scott can’t save from being very manipulative and uncomfortable.
That said, even though the ending takes the shine off somewhat by being far too clean and consequence-free, I’d still recommend giving Bachelorette a shot, especially female viewers who will almost definitely get more out of it than men. The film works on a scene-to-scene basis, it is very funny, and the cast – particularly the main trio of Dunst, Lizzy Caplan, and Isla Fisher – are excellent all round. Between the evidence put forward here and in Sleeping With Other People, Headland has a Great film in her if she can just stop giving in to the same harmful rom-com clichés she’s ostensibly trying to deconstruct or critique, but I’m fine with her putting out “pretty alright” films like Bachelorette in the meantime.
A Cross the Universe [Saturday 24th]
Dirs: Romain Gavras, So-Me, Justice
In theory, A Cross the Universe is a tour documentary for the French House duo Justice, taking in their three-week trek across the United States back in 2008. In reality, A Cross the Universe is that hour in a Scorsese crime movie before things start getting “too real,” or perhaps a Coen Brothers comedy if they let go of all their inhibitions and any semblance of good taste. The Justice live show is barely featured, barring occasional heavily-edited blink-and-you’ll-miss-it snippets. Instead, the hour-long film acts more as a perplexed document of America in the year 2008 as seen through the eyes of two confused young children who seem determined to live out every last cliché in the rock-and-roll tour-doc lifestyle book yet have no real clue as to why. From our first view through the cameras, where Xavier is complaining about Gaspard misplacing his boarding pass because Gaspard always misplaces his boarding pass, we are strapped into the seat of a rollercoaster that is hanging on by a single screw and the results are surprisingly thrilling and intoxicating despite all better instincts.
Any kind of profundity or meaning arrives by absolute accident rather than from intent, especially with regards to the band’s bus driver who talks like Sam Elliott’s Stranger from The Big Lebowski and makes about as much sense. Their tour manager mail-orders a gun on the day of their first show, spends the entire film flinging it around the place with his face stone-locked into an expression that creates the impression that he might start shooting at any second, and ridicules anybody who asks him to put the damn thing away through a ridiculous leap of logic that involves comparing the deadly weapon to a piece of jewellery. Everybody goes condo and penthouse shopping for basically no reason, the cameras repeatedly walk in on or overhear somebody having sex in the tour bus, and the film catches multiple fans and groupies desperate to proclaim the duo to be “the greatest band ever” who “inspire” them so despite their only having made one album at that point.
Throughout it all, Xavier and Gaspard bumble around either completely bemused or off in their own little worlds. Xavier regales a very uncomfortable Anthony Keidis with his butchered version of “Under the Bridge,” the two take a photo op with a pair of Hooters waitresses and look like they’d rather be anywhere else, Gaspard plays football in a supermarket whilst drunk and/or high off his face, Xavier tries to light a backstage groupie on fire with a match and some vodka whilst they’re all in a drunken stupor, and Gaspard has a priceless Vegas wedding with a blurry-faced woman who completely disappears by the following morning. All this despite them both supposedly being good, devout Christian boys. And the film just keeps going, indulging every last excess, editing faster and faster, the music getting louder and louder, proceedings getting crazier and crazier, until it all ends with Xavier glassing a crazed fan, doing a full 90 minute show with a heavily-bleeding hand, and then everybody being arrested for the second time that tour as Michel Polnareff’s “Love Me, Please Love Me” ushers in the credits over images of the duo being embraced by their adoring crowds. It’s manic, intoxicating, and sounds absolutely fucking phenomenal, as rock-and-roll excess should do.
Callie Petch can shout. They said THEY CAN SHOUT!