PIANO By D.H. Lawrence
Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.
In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.
So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.
The written word is an attempt at completeness when there is no-one awaiting you in a dimly lit bed-room- awaiting your tales of the day
“Prisoners” and “We’re the Millers”
These two films present a starkly different view on the modern American family; “Prisoners” is a bleak thriller whereas “We’re the Millers” is a road comedy.
Firstly, “We’re the Millers” stars Jason Sudekis as a small time drug dealer who takes on a large smuggling job to clear his debt. He recruits Jennifer Anniston’s Rose who is an aging stripper, Emma Roberts as a homeless emo rebel and a dippy eighteen year old inexperienced male to portray his family so his vehicle isn’t searched at the Mexican border. The plot is your basic voyage and return story with nauseatingly cliched Mexican drug lords presenting obstacles to the Millers in their quest.
Many of the scenes fall flat because the attempt at dramatic irony, us knowing they’re not a real family, only applied in one scene, when they are stopped on the border. For some reason the quintet try to keep up their facade to people who shouldn’t care less. This, as well as lifting the humour out of the scenes, completely sucks the movie of any possible tension. It was less will they/ won’t they be caught and more if they get caught so what? Further to this, I was informed after seeing the movie that a lot of the comedy was intentionally “shocking” or “in bad taste” perhaps trying to cash in on the cache of “Movie 43”. I tried to recall which parts of the movie were particularly shocking; the language was profane but that doesn’t register with me. There are many sexual scenes such as when the Millers run into a real Brady Bunch family who mistakenly think that the Millers are swingers resulting in Jennifer Anniston’s breasts being groped but this seemed quite tame. Worst of all there was a moment where the dippy son gets bitten on the penis by a tarantula resulting in the flashing of inflated testicles to the audience. The audience lapped it up, roaring at every frame of inflated ball sack on the screen. This seemed to be the best candidate for what can be considered “shocking” but I just saw it as a rehash of the scenes in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”, “The Inbetweeners”, “The Simpsons”, “Bruno” etc…
Other than the lack of humour “We’re the Millers” was devoid of any heart or originality. The films dialogue seemed like it was written by a committee trying to pour as many snappy lines into a trailer as possible. Not only this but an old person trying to figure out how the cool kids of today talk. I grimaced at every “#yolo” and “ya know what I mean” uttered let alone the Bane impression, yes we all saw that movie. The conclusion, of the film is that the Millers get put into witness protection programme with the final shot lingering on a marijuana plant. What is the moral of the story? Drug trafficking is okay so long as double cross the people employing you?
“We’re the Millers” attempts to assimilate many of the popular tropes of our time most significantly the “normal people turned drug dealer” popularised in “Breaking Bad” and the zaney heist plot of “The Hangover 3”. Unsurprisingly, the opening shot of the trailer is Jennifer Anniston stripping. This shot alone will have sold many tickets but the performance is one of her worst. Anniston is an unconvincing stripper and is far more convincing in her well worn wifey role. Not to mention, I spent a lot of the movie wondering why Jason Sudekis wasn’t Paul Rudd until I realised that Paul Rudd and Jennifer Anniston had already made their movie of this ilk with “Wanderlust”. This speaks to how much of a lazy, ill conceived rehash this movie really is and leads me to question whether it is not just a bad movie but an exploitative act of plagiarism designed to suck as many dollars and cents into the movie theatre as possible (of course it is).
Secondly, “Prisoners” takes a far different angle on contemporary America. Jake Gyllenhaal plays detective Loki who is the conventional rogue, troubled police detective who is employed to track down the person who abducted the children of Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman). Paul Dano plays the main suspect Alex Jones whose campavan is spotted near the site of the abduction. After Alex is questioned by Loki he is released, much to the chagrin of Keller who abducts, imprisons and tortures him convinced he is the one to have kidnapped his daughter.
The cinematography of this film is excellent with every shot revealing a country whose workforce has moved overseas. I particularly enjoyed Gyllenhaal sitting in a dingy, neon lit amongst the greyscale, chinese restaurant with rain flowing outside attempting to joke with an unwilling waitress. It was a perfect introduction to his character immediately having me on his side whilst telling us he is an “outsider” and a “loner” different from his donut chewing fellow employees. This scene supplants any real back story for detective Loki and is a tribute to how a textured acting performance can be more than enough in the way of exposition. Contrary to this, and I am aware that these scenes are obligatory, yet the image of the family idyll at the opening of the film seemed too forced for me. Hugh Jackman said in an interview for the film “there’s something visceral about being a parent even the idea of your kids going missing gives you a feeling in the pit of your stomach.” This shows that we do not need to know that everyone is so happy before the shit goes down.
The director Denis Villeneuve said “I am attracted to dark and violent stories” and this is certainly an example of this. The torture of Alex Jones has just the right amount of violence visible to us and Paul Dano’s lack of dialogue heightens the question of whether he knows anything perfectly. His character is broken down both physically and as a representation to us as an audience. Eventually all we see is a solitary blodied eye peeping out from his enclosed space. I thought this piece of storytelling was masterful and a fine telling of how far humans will go. I reject the idea that this was a social commentary on the happenings in Iraq and saw it more as a comment on humanity’s willingness to commit atrocities in general reminding me of the quote “They’re only as good as the world allows them to be. I’ll show you, when the chips are down, these… these civilized people? They’ll eat each other.” From Heath Ledger’s Joker.
All that remains to be said is that Melissa Leo is terrific in this film and in general with performances in “Treme” and “Louie” and has become one of my favourite actors.
"Runner Runner" and "Rounders"
"Runner Runner" comes fifteen years after the release of "Rounders" and over these years we’ve seen huge changes in the game of Poker, so how do these films compare?
At their core “Runner Runner” and “Rounders” are both centered around an ambitious young genius who has a choice between his degree and the game he loves. Poker represents the temptations of youth for both Matt Damon’s Mike McDermott and Justin Timberlake’s Richie First. Older, wiser characters admonish both protagonists interests in what they perceive as “gambling”. The characters deliver responses that Poker isn’t like blackjack or craps, Mike Mcdermott memorably saying “Why do you think the same five guys make it to the final table of the World Series of Poker EVERY YEAR? What, are they the luckiest guys in Las Vegas?” This line having a strange resonance today with no player making repeat final tables since the poker boom. Both characters get dragged into the seedy underbelly of gambling, develop a love interest and ultimately have a showdown with their rival.
What Matt Damon has over Justin Timberlake in these equivalent roles is likeablility. Though I believe Damon to be the superior actor anyway I believe Timberlake to have been hampered by the script. When we are introduced to Mike McDermott he is down and out keeping a truck driving job to put himself through law school. On the other hand, Richie First’s quoted “18k” in his bank account is said to be “not enough” as he tries to grind online and keep illegal books for a living. I’m sure director Brad Furman was attempting to exploit the preppy charisma of Timberlake in “The Social Network” yet he just comes across as smug and arrogant.
“Runner Runner’s” glossy production detracts from the feeling of the film with Richie’s multitabling commensurate to Rocky training out of an actual gym. Particularly, the scene where Richie plays online misses wildly in what it should be achieving. Richie clicks around a screen and utters a tirade of Poker jargon as a crowd of amazed students gather around him for the ride. At one point Richie says ““I’ve been three tabling which statistically is the right play”. Not only is he not three tabling but four tabling at the time of saying this but how is that “statistically the right play”? This line of dialogue is representative of the whole film; catchy and spoken quickly enough to wash over you but essentially hollow.
“Rounders” always stays within it’s means, we don’t see Mike win the World Series or even get the girl. Instead, he beats his local rival leading to the promise of a higher score. “Runner Runner”, conversely, spirals insanely out of control as Poker is pushed to the side when Ben “scarface” Affleck’s Ivan Block is introduced. Richie is inexplicably ignorant to Block’s many crimes considering he seeks him out in the first place to tell him he has been cheated on his site. Further to this, within weeks of knowing him Block is throwing chickens to crocodiles, did Richie think he was in Puerta Rico for the sun? Even when Richie is investigated by the FBI he stupidly asks Block if “we are doing anything wrong?” I could understand if the attempt was to show Richie as simultaenously naïve and intelligent as many gamblers are but the suspicions about Block’s characters are bombarded at Richie to the point that the chickens probably think that something is up. Of course, something is up, Richie folds to the FBI instead of showing some backbone and tricks Block into landing on American soil using the means of corruption that Block taught him. Richie concurrently gets the girl and we are left to think that Richie will become the next Block.
“Rounders” is better written, directed, produced and acted. “Runner Runner” like the online game it depicts is cold, by numbers and relatively thrill less. Maybe in another fifteen years someone will ante up and try again.