Past, Sex, Love, Sounds.
I’ve had a bad few weeks. Well, truth be told, I’ve been having a bad year, which itself was actually the catalyst for this recent onset of the heaviest kind of depression. The realisation that it has been a full year and a bit since I graduated from University happened at the end of last month whilst I was on the toilet, because these kinds of thoughts like to wait until you’re truly at your most vulnerable to strike I guess. Perhaps because I spent much of my childhood being very academically-inclined, I have a rather unhealthy obsession with progress, with moving forward, with actually doing shit. All things that haven’t happened these past 13 months since I returned home, failed to find any work despite trying (excepting this one time that I quit after two days due to a massive mental breakdown), lost most of my friends to their own homes and lives – and their largely-collective inability to ANSWER A GODDAMN TEXT OR MESSAGE, COME ON PEOPLE – and resultantly retreated further inside myself and lost control of all sense of self and purpose.
We can talk about most of those in later instalments of this thing, assuming I get enough watched each week to justify doing one of these – hell, this one only exists because I forced myself yesterday to write; there’s a total of five entries on this thing. Instead, let’s focus on my diabetes, which is shit, surprising no-one. Last week-ish, I went to a party with some of my old friends and had to turn down cake because I didn’t bring a needle for my insulin pen that would have let me have some. Last Thursday, I visited my Nan (whole other story for another time) and had to do the same for similar reasons, and I really would have liked that cake, too, because my Nan is legit exhausting. Two weeks ago, I went out for a meal and had to spend 15 minutes trawling through the Internet trying to find the carbohydrate information for my meal, which is never printed on the physical menus and is rarely found online, so that I could be able to eat the meal I ordered.
Diabetes makes me feel absolutely and utterly helpless, particularly since the regime I’m on was supposed to mean that I’d be able to not worry so much, eat more of what I wanted, and not have to inject as much insulin (since a bigger dosage means the injection hurts a lot more). That’s all turned out to be utter bollocks, despite my nurse’s best attempts to state to the contrary. Every time I am reminded of the fact of my condition, it shreds whatever vestiges of self-worth that I was able to scrape together between those occurrences and makes me feel less-than, worthless, somebody being kept alive purely by the luck of an NHS connection, since I would literally be priced out of existence otherwise. My stomach has hardened from my injections, making the process even more painful, and there have been more discoloured bruises popping up on there as a result, my fingers are ruined from the process of having to prick them multiple times a day to get a blood sugar reading, and every single instance of my wanting to eat is now a trial in and of itself in order to make sure I put the right amount of insulin in, lest I hypo (let my blood sugars drop too low) in the middle of my sleep again.
Last Friday, my nurse wanted me to install an electronic disc in my arm that is supposed to be able to measure my blood sugars without having to prick my fingers all the time. The problem is that, despite claims that it is discreet, it looks like a giant fucking tag and I feel like a goddamn freak for having to wear it – which I’m not, yet, but we’re likely doing the changeover next week. This, in addition to her often not listening to me during these soul-destroying sessions anyway and a multitude of other things that have been weighing down on my depression as of late, led to me doing the sensible and mature thing of scratching really hard at the veins in one of my wrists in the hopes that I might self-harm enough to start bleeding. Not only did that not happen, but the result of my amateur-hour antics has left me with a massive infrequent irritation in that area on the wrist for the last few days, and it both hurts and bugs the shit out of me.
At least we all now know that I won’t try self-harming properly, since I’m too anal about the irritations caused by the results to consider trying something like that again. This also at least further reinforces that, despite the vast increase over these past few months of passive suicidal thoughts, I’ll never intentionally kill myself, which I guess will be reassuring to… somebody? …in some way?
Here’s what I’ve been watching these past 8 days.
Atomic Blonde [Saturday 12th]
Dir: David Leitch
Was planning on writing an actual review of this to go along with the John Wick: Chapter 2 one I did back in February, but I am a professional layabout misery-guts waste of space right now so it never came to pass. Therefore, the Cliff Notes: I really liked it, never quite loved it. For one thing, it is two goddamn hours long, and if Leitch and Chad Stahelski’s respective post-John Wick the First ventures are anything to go by, they are just not filmmakers suited to runtimes that roll over into the triple digits as they get snagged on the issue of pacing, particularly in the early going. Mostly, though, and this is not to say that there aren’t proper problems that keep Atomic Blonde from greatness – that length, the interrogation framework that I guess eventually makes itself thematically relevant but is otherwise needless and brings the film to a dead halt almost every time we cut back to it, Charlize Theron’s wonky British accent – I feel the problem lies more with me and my frequent inability to jive with John le Carré-type spy stories.
Theoretically, I should love these types of spy stories. The more meditative, procedural spy stories that directly interrogate their protagonists’ place in the world and how that changes once they start questioning that very thing themselves – but in practice, I can never fully get on board with them. I always find them too distant, too emotionally cold, and too guarded to connect with them in any meaningful way beyond an academic appreciation of “yep, these are well-told stories that do absolutely nothing for me.” Atomic Blonde, even with it bleeding some old-school James Bond DNA into the mix, ultimately ended up falling into this trap for me as soon as the credits started rolling and I left the cinema. Even with Theron and McAvoy giving it their all (I must admit to enjoying this part of James McAvoy’s career where he devotes himself purely to playing hammy bastards), I found myself otherwise uninvested in the actual plot going on, especially when everybody changes allegiances and plans about every three or four scenes.
That said, I still liked it. Leitch drowns the film in an 80s spy movie cool, with neo-noir cinematography and more New Wave needle-drops than the complete series of That ‘80s Show, that also sometimes threatens to follow Edgar Wright’s lead in translating graphic novel aesthetics to big screen cinema. Although it is still too damn long, I never found myself bored and it never stops being watchable. And when the action scenes do come along, they are as fantastic as Theron deserves, with an often wince-inducing level of physicality and intensity that sells her, even after her turn in Mad Max: Fury Road already confirmed it, as a believable ass-kicking badass. In a way, it feels like Atomic Blonde is deliberately working against its best assets by minimising the amount of action sequences it has, resulting in a film that’s not empty by any stretch of the definition – it does actually end up as a thoughtful mediation on the nature, conflicts, and plain messiness of spy work, with themes that are followed through and with something to say – but still feels like an exercise in style over substance. At least it’s still a better Bond movie than the last decade of Bond movies.
The Big Sick [Tuesday 15th]
Dir: Michael Showalter
This is one of the best films I have seen all year, and that genuinely means a lot this time because 2017 has been a stonking good year at the movies and it’s not even two-thirds done yet! And it does go further than my being a big fan of both Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon (the film’s writers), having enjoyed their old podcast during the brief stretch of time in my life where I could get with podcasts, and loving Nanijani’s sporadic guest appearances in almost every comedy this decade. I am a massive, bleeding-heart romantic who is a sucker for a sweet, genuine love story – doesn’t matter if it’s real or fictional, I’m pretty sure I get more excited for my friend’s upcoming wedding than she does, and she’s the bride – but I’ve been grossly underserved by the movies in this department as of late. This is partly due to Hollywood mostly phasing out production of these sorts of movies because they’re not guaranteed to make $80+ million opening weekend, but it’s also because what few that do come out have never really been, y’know, romantic. They feature uncomfortable power and gender dynamics, unlikeable characters, a complete lack of romance or chemistry, or base their premises around romanticising Stockholm Syndrome WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU DOING, JASON REITMAN?!
Now, it may be because much of the film is autobiographical, but The Big Sick also feels like a conscious effort by Nanjiani and Gordon to directly address those issues, as well as many of the more problematic elements of most rom-coms in general. Much of the film’s opening 40 or so minutes are dedicated to, get this, showing Kumail and Emily – here portrayed by Zoe Kazan and, my God, I cannot believe this is the same woman who starred in the execrable What If? 3 years ago – falling in love with each other, being sweet and adorable and charming and relentlessly likeable, nay, lovable! It sets up their dreams and flaws and lives that make them feel like real people, with setbacks and interactions that make dramatic sense! The leads have, wait for it, chemistry! And the film’s final half-hour, rather than succumbing to the typical Apatow production hole of being needless and only extending the film past all reasonable length, is all about directly wrestling with the typical rom-com character growth and grand semi-manipulative gestures that add unintentionally unseemly undertones to otherwise heartwarming stories, instead closing on a deliberately smaller and profoundly more affecting note.
Oh, and it’s also legitimately hilarious, since most rom-coms, even the better ones of recent years (like Trainwreck), excel at either hilarity or romance instead of both. Plus, the film also manages to explore Nanjiani’s lapsed-Muslim faith in a devoutly religious and traditional Pakistani household with nuance and affection, and also extends that same nuance and affection to Gordon’s parents and their own often-strained yet still-loving relationship with a pair of phenomenal, almost show-stealing turns from Holly Hunter and Ray Romano. It’s just outstanding, simply outstanding, and I came out of the cinema with a little happy skip in my heart that lasted the rest of the evening. If you haven’t seen it yet, I cannot recommend this enough, I love it to pieces.
A Most Violent Year [Friday 18th]
Dir: J. C. Chandor
Remember back last September when I picked up Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly sight unseen on Blu-Ray for just £1 from, of all places, Poundworld? Well, there seems to be something about slow-burn crime dramas about the lie and exploitative nature of The American Dream distributed in the UK by Icon Entertainment, and Poundworld since that’s also where I picked J. C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year sight unseen on Blu-Ray for just £1 the other week! Sometimes you’ve just got to look between all of the masses of unsold Walking on Sunshine Blu-Rays to get to the good stuff; the good stuff here being hidden gems that double as potential slight bits of irony given where they’ve mostly ended up.
Anywho, this was really good. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it great – it’s too messy; Chandor’s dialogue does have a good rhythm, which is important since the whole film is built on it, but can at times be too clunky and didactic for its own good; and I don’t like the score which strains too damn hard for those Godfather comparisons that other critics slathered upon the film but I found to be rather inaccurate – but it’s good viewing. Chandor is able to keep the tension at a constant simmer without ever sacrificing the deliberately slow nature of the piece. Oscar Isaac puts in another great, conflicted, and understated performance and he’s complimented very well during their relatively brief time together by Jessica Chastain’s stern, steely performance of her own. Bradford Young (of Arrival fame) creates a cold, imposing, yet quietly gorgeous New York City with his cinematography. Whilst the slow unravelling of the lie of the American Dream and explicitly-American style Capitalism overall, whilst not breaking any new ground, does build to a strong payoff. I doubt that it’ll be anyone’s favourite movie, but it’s definitely worth a watch.
Ocean’s Eleven [Sunday 20th]
Dir: Steven Soderbergh
Ocean’s Eleven is absolutely nothing but propulsive, star-driven, empty style that says nothing other than “aren’t all of these movie stars super-attractive and wasn’t this kind of late-50s/early-60s Ratpack style super-cool” with no characters, no tricks or gimmicks, a runtime that somehow tickles the edges of the two-hour mark, and questionable ideas of gender politics… and I can’t help but love the film for every single one of those reasons because I adore decent heist movies and Steven Soderbergh is too damn good at what he does for anyone to be able to dismiss this. That’s basically it, I don’t have much else to add, primarily because the film actively resists such a thing. It walks up to you, asks “Hey, you wanna watch a caper movie with attractive, charismatic Movie Stars for about two hours?” You reply in the affirmative, Ocean’s Eleven proceeds to give you exactly that, and then the credits roll and you sit with a big old grin on your face very satisfied by the experience you were promised. I enjoyed it, I look forward to watching the other two, and I hope that Ocean’s Eight manages to overcome the enormous handicap of having James Corden in its cast to also turn out to be the best possible kind of popcorn cinema but with cool-as-heck women!
The Diary of a Teenage Girl [Sunday 20th]
Dir: Marielle Heller
With the huge caveat that I am one of the very last people who can speak with any authority on this subject, being both a man and somebody who has yet to have sex or any relationship to speak of, the feeling that I predominately got from The Diary of a Teenage Girl was one of mature immaturity. Many sex comedies or coming-of-age movies focussed around sex tend to treat sex as a be-all end-all, either as a conquest end goal that brings nothing but immense satisfaction leading to a sudden realisation that meaningless sex is nothing when good loving commitment can be found in its place (for the former), or as an act that brings about immediate maturation once it has occurred, a sign that our protagonist has truly grown from a child into an adult (for the latter). Neither is particularly true or healthy, so what The Diary of a Teenage Girl presents is an altogether far messier, more provocative, yet ultimately more truthful and mature hypothesis. Sex is messy, everybody wants it, especially those who legally can’t have it just yet and therefore have to grapple with the nature of consent, nobody knows what the fuck they are doing, having sex does not magically make you more mature or fill you with happiness or a sudden desire for commitment, but none of this is exactly bad.
It’s that lack of judgement that I think is what gives The Diary of a Teenage Girl its extra kick, in addition to knockout performances from Bel Powley (who should hopefully find something else worthy of her talents any day now) and Alexander Skarsgård (a.k.a. the talented Skarsgård). I’m not saying that the film is entirely hands-off when it comes to morality, since it does make it very clear that Minnie and Monroe’s relationship is decidedly fucked-up on both ends, but it demonstrates a willingness to grapple with the issues of sexual consent, freedom, and discovery in carefully-handled but deep ways, focussing on the contradictions inherent in Minnie’s desire to learn and take control of her sexuality in spite of raging insecurities over her physical appearance. It doesn’t wave anything off as a learning experience, focussing on the emotional consequences and turmoil brought upon by Minnie and everybody else’s actions, but it also never quite condemns, either. Perhaps this is why the film is set in mid-70s San Francisco, when this kind of sexual freedom and experimentation, endlessly judged upon in the conservative mainstream, was pushed back underground as something that everyone knows happens but is not supposed to actually acknowledge.
Further, excepting a needless end tag, the film never tries to pretend that it’s offering up some kind of Grand Statement on Sexual and Emotional Maturation for Women everywhere, instead choosing to be a resolute character piece, which enables it to avoid any of the many potholes that this kind of topic could have fallen into. Coupled with the female perspective that runs the film, that also means it avoids the trap of being one long justification for why statutory rape is a-OK – which is a comparison I bring up purely because Una is finally due out next Friday and you should absolutely not watch Una because Una is reprehensible garbage. I can’t quite say I love The Diary of a Teenage Girl: partly because it’s just not for me (as mentioned), partly because its frequent animation flourishes and detours, whilst acting as reminders of the film’s graphic novel origins, add nothing to the film other than distractedly screaming “YOU ARE WATCHING AN INDIE DRAMEDY,” and because the bit where Minnie’s lesbian fling turns out to only be with her in order to whore her out for drugs is… well, yeah. But I did find it an often-uncomfortable, sometimes funny, always heartfelt, and complex work, handling messy subject matter with the grace and care that comes from looking back on it after you’ve gotten your shit together.
Callie Petch found out they don’t know shit.