Category Archives: 2010s

The Post (2017)

*. I want to start out by saying that while I’m not a big fan of Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep, or Tom Hanks I still went into this one with an open mind. They’re all talented, it’s just that I don’t like their work very much.
*. Unfortunately, The Post started off boring me and ended up being a movie I despised.
*. At the end of the movie Katharine Graham (Streep) says to Ben Bradlee (Hanks) “You know what my husband said about the news? He called it the first rough draft of history.” First, I don’t think Philip L. Graham was the first to come up with that line. Second, while a newspaper may offer a first draft of history, a movie about a story now nearly fifty years old that misrepresents history this badly has no such excuse.
*. By misrepresents I mean the way the publication of the Pentagon Papers by the New York Times (for which they won a Pulitzer) is made over into a story broken by the Washington Post, “a little local paper” (that’s what they call it) with a heroic female owner who, through this experience, is empowered. Not only is the Times nudged aside, but it’s done in a way that makes the film into a fawning love letter to Graham and Bradlee. As you would expect, given that it’s based on their memoirs.
*. For example, notice how, at the end, the press flock around the publisher and editor of the Times on the courthouse steps and ignore Graham and Bradlee? Nothing is said, but the message is clearly that she is being ignored just because she is a woman. Not because it was the Times that had been sued first, making it really their case.

*. The rest of the movie is even more heavy-handed. The script just pounds away with crude expository dialogue and preaching. It’s like there’s a flashing red light that comes on to tell us when to cheer. “If the government wins and we’re convicted, the Washington Post as we know it will cease to exist,” Bradlee is warned. To which he heroically replies: “Well, if we live in a world where the government could tell us what we can and cannot print, then the Washington Post as we know it has already ceased to exist.” Yay! Or when Graham passes through her agony in the garden party and tells her various executives that the Post is “my paper now!” Another yay!
*. The whole movie is this clumsy. When Graham goes to court a helpful young woman, presumably a student or clerk, helps her avoid the crowds outside the courtroom and then tells Graham that she works for the government. But then why is she being so kind? Because she really believes in what the Post is doing! Plus, she looks up to Graham as a role model, fighting the old boys’ club. You have to groan as you listen to this, but it actually gets worse as the clerk is humiliated by her (male) boss when she gets into the court. Come on.
*. We get it already. We can’t not get it. Anthony Lane: “If anything, we get the point too much.” Even the big line from the Supreme Court’s decision is read out loud by one of the Post reporters to a silent newsroom, like Sally Field holding up her unionize sign at the cotton mill. Freedom of the press! Yay!

*. The thing is, for all its topicality (and the film was made in a rush, at least partly in response to Donald Trump’s attacks on the press as “enemies of the people”), the points being made are just platitudes. Sexism is bad. A free press is good.
*. I don’t think anything so noble was going on. The decision to run or not to run the Pentagon Papers was a business one, and it paid off. I doubt it had anything much to do with sticking up for the Post‘s employees or the troops in Vietnam, at least at Graham’s level. And Graham herself, while not an old boy, was a wealthy heiress and member of the highest rank of society, not to mention, as her later thoughts on the subject indicate, no die-hard crusader for a free press. But this won’t do in the present political climate so we get to listen to speeches about how hard she has to struggle to make her voice heard in a man’s world and all the rest of it.
*. The script was by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer. Singer had also written The Fifth Estate and Spotlight, both of which were a lot better than this. I have to blame the crudity of the script here though for most of the film’s failings. Spielberg’s direction might have worked, but I think all the long takes with complicated dolly and tracking shots needed a boost from a more engaged score. I was wondering if this film even had a score in the first hour, and when it did arrive it just seemed to play over obvious cues.
*. As you could have bet your house on, The Post received widespread critical acclaim. Despite agreeing with its politics (how could you not?) I found it a piece of dead spin in an outdated style. It’s less a drama than a lecture, which in the present crisis of journalism is of no use at all.

1917 (2019)

*. It’s fitting that the DVD for 1917 comes with two audio commentaries, one by director and co-writer Sam Mendes and the other by cinematographer Roger Deakins. This is their movie, and it may belong just as much tp Deakins as it does tp Mendes.
*. What I mean is that 1917 is an amazing movie to look at. It’s done to play as though there’s only a single cut (when Schofield falls down the stairs and gets knocked out), with each set piece on the journey looking like an iconic war painting come to life in terms of its colour patterns and composition. You can only marvel at the technical accomplishment evident in nearly every frame. It’s a state-of-the-art production all the way, and with art in this case not taking a back seat to technology.
*. But does it look too good? I’ve talked about this before (see my notes on The Wailing) but it seems to be even more significant here. Should we be worried that this vision of the Western Front looks unreal? Mendes has talked about how the film was “never intended in any way as a history lesson,” and that the previously-mentioned single cut was made in part to draw attention to a move away from “poetic naturalism” into something more “mythic,” surrealistic, and dream-like: “a kind of descent into hell” as Schofield explores the burning town. But wasn’t a lot of the WWI experience like a kind of hell? I think something less literal would have been more challenging.

*. I’m not aware of Mendes mentioning Apocalypse Now in this regard, but it strikes me as being a film very much in the same vein. Coppola wasn’t interested in providing a history lesson on the war in Vietnam either, but rather in taking us on a psychedelic journey into the heart of darkness. In the case of that movie, however, there was a sense that the stunning visuals actually revealed a deeper reality about the war. Here they seem more like a distraction at best, and an attempt at prettying things up at worst. The trenches look nice and new, and get a load of that climactic charge across a pristine green lawn, with CGI explosions that don’t blow anyone to bloody fragments. Even the field hospital is a remarkably bloodless and peaceful place.
*. This is a sanitized view of war in more ways than just its stunning look though. War here is all heroism and sacrifice. The enemy remain faceless and treacherous, while there is no sign of cowardice or shirking among the Brits, nor any suggestion of strained class relations. All of this was a staple in previous movies about the First World War, and indeed of the literature of that conflict since the first memoirs started being published. These are not the trenches of Remarque or Lussu, Graves or Sassoon.

*. One has to compare it to another outstanding technical achievement that came out around the same time: Peter Jackson’s restoration project They Shall Not Grow Old. Both movies were described as labours of love, dedicated to grandfathers who had served. But I’m not sure Mendes’ grandfather would have recognized this imagining of what the war was like.
*. It’s odd what liberties stick out. Given how flat the terrain is, which is historically accurate, I kept wondering where that waterfall came from. And those rapids. This actually bothered me. Apparently they had a hard time finding the waterfall (they had to use the River Tees) as there were none anywhere near where they were shooting (on the flat Salisbury plain).
*. Well, it does look great. They put a ton of work into it. Six months of rehearsal, and fantastic efforts into constructing the different sets and locations, including digging out a mile of trenches. All of this shows on screen. The walk through the town with the flares going off was itself worthy of multiple awards (and Deakins did get another Oscar).

*. While it looks great, however, I didn’t come away thinking it was a great movie. I get that they wanted to make a movie honouring the sacrifice of the soldiers, but the story here seems to lay on the heroic elements pretty thick. I found the whole business of Schofield finding the woman with the baby and the milk to be a massive eye-roll, even if it was based on a supposedly true story. And the lone symbolic tree at the end was a bridge too far.
*. As with so much contemporary cinema, it seems like production design and technical accomplishment were outstripping the basic business of telling a story. For example, does the one-shot conceit actually add anything to the film, or was it just a stylistic tour de force? This is a movie so much in love with its eye and its ingeniousness that it puts everything else in the back seat for a ride.

They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)

*. The centenary of the First World War saw a revival of interest in that epic conflict, with scores of books and conferences and films to mark the occasion. They Shall Not Grow Old was part of this, being commissioned as a special memorial.
*. I think it has to be considered a resounding success on that score, being very well received both critically and among a broader audience. It’s also a tremendous achievement in terms of the restoration of archival film sources. The First World War has never looked so good.
*. There were purists who criticized colourization and other liberties taken with the source material to be a bridge too far, but I think this is to examine the matter far too closely. I do think it’s important that the critiques put forward by historians be heard, but at the end of the day this is popular history. Director Peter Jackson even said that he wasn’t that worried about accuracy. He wanted to convey the experience of the war in general terms, leaving out any mention of dates or locations, and not identifying any of the soldiers’ voices we hear. If you’re looking for that kind of documentary there are plenty of them out there. This was an attempt at doing something different.

*. I’ve read quite a bit about WWI, memoirs as well as histories, but I still appreciated the grunt’s-eye view of the proceedings here and felt I learned some things, mainly with regard to the more mundane aspects of life on the Western Front. Things like diet, going to the bathroom (there was no toilet paper), and (what never ceases to amaze me) the weight of the kit these human pack horses had to haul. I have to say that it never looks, when the troops are marching, that they are carrying 60-100 pounds of gear. This is a point I’ve often wondered about and that I should try to do more research into.
*. Also revealing is the ambiguous response to the war itself. War is hell, yes, but it’s also a peak experience for these men, and something they wouldn’t have missed for the world. This echoes similar sentiments I’ve heard expressed by other veterans. In their return to civilian life there’s an unmistakable note of bitterness struck, returning to meaningless industrial or office jobs, at least where they haven’t been made redundant. Rambo’s rant at the end of First Blood has a long history.
*. The film is structured well, following the Tommy experience from the outbreak of war, through enlistment, introduction to the front (where the film switches to colour), life in the trenches, the day of battle, and the end of war and its aftermath. The flip of ending on a joke is also, I think, a great touch.
*. Jackson dedicated the film to his grandfather, as Sam Mendes dedicated 1917 (which came out the next year) to his. Both movies are heartfelt memorials, but I much prefer this to 1917. While it makes some concessions to absolute accuracy and authenticity I found it revealing, informative, and moving throughout. It’s a cliché, but as in the best such films we really do feel the past coming to life.

We Summon the Darkness (2019)

*. While not the worst movie I’ve ever seen — not by a long shot! — this is nevertheless a total dog that was no fun at all. While I was watching it I kept thinking that it couldn’t end soon enough. So I don’t want to spend much time on it here.
*. When your biggest calling card is having Johnny Knoxville as a co-star I think you’re letting the audience know that the bar isn’t being set very high. You also know that when he does appear, as a televangelist preaching against the horrors of heavy metal music, something’s not right. No spoiler alerts for seeing through that false shepherd’s disguise! Or for guessing that the bad girls are really bad girls. If you were expecting twists, lose those expectations now.
*. The religious angle is heavy-handed and unoriginal. Christians are the real bad guys (“Beg for Christ’s forgiveness before I kill you!”). Knoxville’s Praise the Lord is really Pass the Loot. How exactly the Satanic killings played into all of this wasn’t totally clear to me, or remotely credible. But . . . that’s it for plot.
*. We’ve been here before. Just the year before there’d been the ironic invocation of Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” in The Strangers: Prey at Night and here it’s Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven Is a Place on Earth.” Because . . . I don’t know. It’s irony? These are the ’80s, you see. And we didn’t have irony back then.
*. Oh well. Shot in 16 days, and maybe written in that many hours. If you’re looking for retro heavy-metal mayhem I’d suggest Mandy, a more ambitious and original picture. I’m really not sure who the target audience was here. Johnny Knoxville fans who may be wondering what he’s been up to recently? No suspense, no scares, no good kills. A listless entry into what’s become a jaded genre.

Spotlight (2015)

*. Spotlight is a sad movie. Not so much because of the subject matter, which is depressing enough, but for the largely unspoken subtext.
*. That subtext is the death of the newspaper industry. Anyone who was in a newsroom during these years — and by “these years” I mean anytime in the twenty-first century — will recognize the funereal tone. The declining readerships. The constant rounds of buy-outs. The shrinking news hole. Newspapers were a sunset industry, and the sun was setting fast.
*. Despite this being the background to the story of Spotlight, and how often it gets mentioned by the real reporters in the supplemental materials contained on the DVD, it’s so lightly touched upon here as to barely be a subtext. I think the tough times are only adverted to, briefly, on a couple of occasions.
*. I don’t know if that was intentional or just part of Spotlight‘s general air of understatement. For the most part this is a quiet movie. Liev Schreiber seems to want to deliver all of his lines without moving his lips, and when Mark Ruffalo’s Mike Rezendes loses his cool near the end it strikes a jarring and I think artificial note. The thing is, journalists are professionals, and no matter how big the story they rarely allow themselves these dramatic moments.
*. I think it’s a shame Spotlight doesn’t do more to address the state-of-the-industry subtext more, as the rest of the film, despite being nicely handled all around, is pretty conventional. As with all such tales of intrepid newsmen breaking a big story, our heroes are up against a corrupt and seemingly all-powerful system. Think the government in All the President’s Men or the tobacco giants in The Insider. There’s a scene here where Stanley Tucci tries to explain to Ruffalo what he’s up against while sitting on a park bench (which is where all such conversations take place). The Church is too big. “They control everything.” We are just on the edge of the cinema of paranoia and the great ’70s conspiracy thrillers, only this time it’s real.
*. Of course the other big change in the news business has been the switch to using digital sources for news gathering. There’s a nice scene here that captures this that’s set in the “library,” which is in the basement of the news building. Nobody can find a light switch and the place smells because there’s a dead rat lying around somewhere. Remember those scenes of Woodward and Bernstein doing their library research in All the President’s Men? Well, this is what that has come to.

*. Such movies do at least help to remind us that there’s always a bigger story behind even the biggest stories we read or hear about in the news, and that hidden forces shape what gets reported in all sorts of different ways. The sad thing (yet another sad thing) is that we’ve become so cynical about news in an age of “fake news” and manufactured consent that such a message only undermines our shrinking confidence in journalism, even in a movie that champions the industry.
*. I like Spotlight, but I’m not that excited by it. The thing is, news dramas, like cop shows and medical shows, form a kind of triumvirate of can’t-miss material. That’s a big reason why they’re so popular on TV (the other reason being that they lend themselves so handily to the serial format). So it’s kind of hard to mess a movie like this up. But the screenplay here, which was on the Black List of best unproduced screenplays, doesn’t seem very special to me, and I have a hard time seeing what makes the film itself worthy of all its accolades (for example, winning Best Picture at the Academy Awards). I think it’s just the kind of movie that critics and award bodies feel they should get behind: socially conscious, relevant, and driven by its script and performances rather than by the latest technology. But beyond these admirable qualities I don’t think it’s anything special.

Holy Hell (2016)

*. It’s the same question outsiders always ask about a cult, or indeed any story of a con man: How did people fall for this? Or, as one of the interviewees in Holy Hell tearfully puts it, “What is the scientific, rational explanation for this madness?” Yes, they were young men and women looking for a personal Jesus and there are always plenty of them around. But when you see people taken in by the likes of Marshall Applewhite of the Heaven’s Gate cult you feel like Carl Sandburg when he responded to the preacher Billy Sunday in his poem “To a Contemporary Bunkshooter.” “I like to watch a good four-flusher work . . . I like a man that’s got nerve and can pull off a great original performance, but you — you’re only a bug-house peddler of second-hand gospel.”
*. Applewhite is an extreme example, but Michel/Andreas/The Teacher/Reyji (born Jaime Gomez), leader of the Buddhafield movement wasn’t far off that same mark. A failed actor and dancer turned guru of a vaguely New Age cult (as if “New Age” theology wasn’t vague enough already), Michel seemed to live in bikini Speedo swimsuits and sunglasses. A narcissist who took his self-obsession beyond parody, Michel was obsessed with his own image. There’s a scene here where he gazes at a peacock fanning its tail that captures this perfectly. Meanwhile, as the years of Californian and then Texan sun took their inevitable toll, cosmetics and surgery would attempt to make up for the damage done, turning him into something grotesque. And yet still no one twigged to his scam. Personally, I would have been alarmed at his not liking dogs. That’s always a bad sign.
*. Ultimately he would be (partially) undone by reports of his sexual predations among a group known as “body workers.” The beautiful young men he had entranced weren’t just literally fucked, but had to pay for the privilege. One of them being Will Allen, who put together this documentary out of the hours of footage he shot while a member of the Buddhafield group for over a period of twenty-plus years.
*. The structure of the story follows a predictable arc, which further underlines how obvious a scam it all was. We know without any hints even being dropped what the “body workers” were really being used for. The brief clips from Michel’s gay porn appearances barely register as a shock. Indeed, the only surprise is how laid-back Allen seems to be about all that happened. When he finally meets up with Michel on the beach some time after leaving the group it’s not a confrontation at all. Indeed, even after the final credits roll it’s hard to read just how Allen now feels about Michel. Of course he (Michel) objected to the film, but overall I think he escapes from it far better than I would have expected.
*. What do we learn? By coincidence the same week I saw this I was watching The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler where the following is said: “Charisma does not exist on its own in anyone. It exists only in an interaction between an individual and an audience. An individual like Hitler who’s telling an audience what they wanted to hear.” This is drawing from the work of Max Weber, and a similar point is made in Holy Hell by one of the former cultists: “You can’t have a leader without followers.” The difference between the two Leaders (Hitler and Michel) is that Michel was more self-absorbed. Buddhafield was a cult of the self, worshipping beauty and the body. Allen’s film speaks in a language that didn’t have a clear analogy in Germany in the 1920s and ’30s, that of narcissists and codependents.
*. The cult members here were not stupid. Nor were they exceptional in wanting something more out of life than material rewards. Instead, something good in them, the desire to help others and perform service, was taken advantage of by someone who saw this as a weakness he could exploit. There are few moments in Holy Hell that are really scary, but one comes at the very end when Allen tracks Michel (now Reyji) to Hawaii where he is shown being followed about by people who might be zombies. It’s not remarkable how people fall into this pattern of self-destructive behaviour, but the results are still so tragic and depressing. For a while some of Michel’s followers found, or said they found happiness. That’s not how anyone looks at the end. They look like they’re already walking circles in hell.

The iMom (2014)

*. Not an entirely new idea. If you read much science fiction you’ll know that the adoption of AI robots into our lives as part of the increasingly complicated “Internet of things” became something of a staple in the 2010s. So here we have a company that delivers live-in robot nannies to couples who have no interest in being parents. What could go wrong?
*. You can be sure things do go wrong, and this is tagged as a horror short though its horror all comes with the twist at the end. Up to that final reveal it’s more like a techno-satire, with the infomercial testimonials playing like the funny ads from the future in movies like Robocop. But there’s a darker undertow in the news programming that’s filled with nothing but war, monster storms, and terrorist attacks. With the world out there such a scary place, who wouldn’t want their home to be a little oasis of peace and calm? Or do the networks who own the news stations also make iMoms? Come to think of it, just what is news and what is advertising?
*. Another note of darkness comes by way of the Biblical-mythic notes that are struck. We will know false prophets by their fruit. Wolves wear sheep’s clothing. Which is referring to . . . iMom? She represents the sinister way technology creeps into our lives, seemingly making our lives better but then exacting a terrible (or Biblical) price. Indeed, is iMom one of the of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, a domestic catastrophe on par with the war and plague that suffuses the news feeds?
*. It’s hard to read her that way, since what happens is the result of a random accident, what seems to be a power surge caused by the storm. This complicates any interpretation. Einstein’s line about how technology has “exceeded our humanity” is provided as an epigraph, but iMom doesn’t represent AI taking over. She hasn’t exceeded humanity so much as moved in to provide a humanity that the parents now lack, and she doesn’t take over so much as break down. Even she knows that she’s neither wolf nor sheep but just a device programmed to perform certain tasks, her “fruits,” without thought or feeling. She isn’t good or bad. The problem is that she’s been left in charge of too much, humans having abdicated responsibility for everything that’s most important. Even the son’s sexual coming of age, we sense, is going to be taken care of by the fetching figure of iMom. Meanwhile, you think those security cameras are going to help keep tabs on things? The killer is inside the house!
*. Not an anti-tech parable then, but an anti-human one. The glossy look of the film plays well against the sketchier television clips, suggesting again that blurring of the line between advertising and content (iMom is even better than the real thing!). I was led to wonder if there was any limit to the kid’s “screen time” when the house itself was so pervaded by screeniness. Come to think of it, why wasn’t realMom working from home? Why would she even want to go outside? It’s scary out there.

The Disaster Artist (2017)

*. The first thing I have to say is that I haven’t seen The Room. Meaning I’ve never sat down and watched the whole thing all the way through. I think I have, however, seen enough of The Room not to need or want to see any more.
*. The Disaster Artist is a movie based on a book of the same name written by Greg Sestero about the making of The Room. Which means it should be unique in its subject matter and point of view. As it turns out, however, it’s a very similar film to Tim Burton’s Ed Wood. Is it a not uncommon story?
*. Once again we have the crazy wannabe artist (Tommy Wiseau, played by James Franco) who dares to follow his dream of becoming an auteur. Hollywood loves these guys (Franco was on track to win an Oscar before being derailed by sexual misconduct allegations), and I think they strike a chord with the broader public as well. How could you not root for such deluded goofs, how could you not want them to succeed? That said . . .
*. As with Ed Wood I found myself wanting to go along with it but after a while I realized there wasn’t enough to care about. It’s not only that these guys (Wood and Wiseau) didn’t have any particular talent, but aside from their personal quirks and oddities they’re just not that interesting on any deeper level. Their films have a limited naive charm to them, but at the end of the day they’re garbage, only entertaining for their display of incompetence.
*. This leads in to the mystery of Tommy Wiseau himself. He’s done a great job building this up, but at the end of the day do I really care where he comes from or how he got all his money? Or whether there is something more to his attraction to Greg than friendship? Again and again in interviews and on the commentary track included with the DVD he has nothing to say when he is pressed. It’s become a kind of shtick.
*. For a film based on such recent true events and a book written by one of the principal actors in those events, I was surprised when listening to the commentary at the liberties taken. Most striking was the cameo by Bryan Cranston, who offers Greg an audition for a part in Malcolm in the Middle. Apparently this never happened, and the big choice Greg had to make was between shaving his beard or being in a photo shoot. That’s quite a dramatic change.
*. In short, I liked The Disaster Artist up to a point. James Franco, like Johnny Depp portraying Ed Wood, has fun doing a real-life caricature. The appearance of Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen is fitting since that’s the kind of comedy the film is aiming for. It’s basically a mockumentary with a clueless madman at the center that everyone responds to by way of stunned reaction shots.
*. The thing is, you get the joke pretty quickly and the rest of the movie’s message is trite. Follow your dreams. Don’t listen to your critics. Stand by your friends. And then maybe everything will work out in the end anyway.
*. It’s such a powerful message that it even took Ed Wood’s sad life story and turned it into something to be celebrated. Insulated from that kind of failure by his wealth, Tommy Wiseau was never in danger of coming to such a tragic end. The historical moment also saved him, as it didn’t Wood. Wood was an authentic outsider where Wiseau was more pleasingly ironic. A post-credit meeting between Wiseau and Franco still in character as Tommy is the perfect joke to end with. Somehow we’re all in on it. Whatever it is.

Vivarium (2019)

*. Vivarium is part of the New Weird in terms of genre, meaning it’s a mix of dark fantasy and SF. Whenever I get into a NW book or movie I suspect some kind of allegory is intended. I think that’s the case here as well, but it falls short.
*. Here’s the story (read no further if you want to avoid spoilers). A young, unmarried, childless couple — Gemma (Imogen Poots) and Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) — go to a new townhouse development named Yonder, a place which makes the usual “cookie-cutter” appellation seem quaint. After a brief tour their creepy guide leaves them, and they find out they’re trapped. No matter how far they walk or drive, or in what direction, they always end up back at Unit 9. They are the only people around. No cell phone coverage, naturally. Boxes are dropped off with food and other supplies. Then a baby arrives. They are told to raise it. It grows up quickly, and gives signs of being some kind of alien life form despite looking human. Then Tom and Gemma die and their now adult (adopted) son goes to work in the same real estate office that they visited at the beginning.
*. Allegories have two levels of interpretation. On the literal level, as far as it is explained, Yonder is an extra-dimensional space constructed by aliens, or some other species native to Earth but unknown to us, whose purpose is to force humans to raise Yonder young.
*. Just on the literal level my basic problem is the same one I have with most such alien movies, or movies involving supernatural creatures like devils or demons. If these other beings are so smart/technologically advanced/powerful, then why are they wasting their time preying on humans? Don’t they have better things to do? The Yonders put all this effort into building their nests just to end up dressing like Mormon missionaries and selling real estate? I guess cuckoos have no imaginative life of their own, but these particular creatures are technologically sophisticated and even write books. They have a culture. So I don’t get it. Their existence seems far more complicated and even less fulfilling than Tom digging a hole in the yard.

*. That’s the macro problem I have, on the literal level. I’d also wonder why Gemma and Tom weren’t put on their notice right away by an estate that looks even more like a Guy Billout picture than the town in The Truman Show. Much more. Those clouds! Also, where are the garages? It’s obviously a commuter development but there’s no place for anyone to park their cars except on the street. There aren’t even any driveways! Did this not strike them as odd right away?

*. Then there is the message, or allegorical meaning of what’s going on. This is pretty grim. The suburbs are hell. Work is pointless drudgery. And once you have a kid your life is forfeit, as you no longer have any purpose except to serve the little monster. Are we all so alienated today, from where we live, what we do, and each other? Well, this movie seems to be saying, Yes we are. And the virtual world next door is even worse.
*. Not very uplifting, or profound. And indeed I thought it all got a lot less interesting as it went along. Obviously we’ve been here before, in what I’ve dubbed the Simulacrum movies (The Truman Show, The Matrix, Dark City). I suppose the only thing different here is that we have become even more complicit in our own destruction. The cuckoo Yonders (it’s an analogy the opening credits introduces, crudely), are taking advantage of our nurturing nature, the sort of thing that helps us endure the stations of the cross of parenting. The moral of the story being that . . . we shouldn’t give in to these feelings? That it’s all just a conformist scam? I don’t know.
*. I mentioned in my notes on the Black Christmas remake (if that’s what it was) that Imogen Poots was growing on me. She grows some more here, as she carries the movie, distracting us from a super-creepy and annoying boy (he likes to scream) and an only slightly less annoying Jesse Eisenberg. I’ve also noted before how Eisenberg is not growing on me, and while he’s not bad here I still don’t care for him. And playing a landscaper?
*. Neat to look at, and given the premise it doesn’t matter that Yonder seems like a movie set or virtual environment. The artificiality of the design is something you’re supposed to appreciate. The characters, however, don’t seem any more three dimensional than the sets, and the point of it all struck me as glum and uninsightful.

The Jigsaw (2014)

*. Just a campfire ghost story, and I have a feeling it’s one I’ve heard before somewhere. Even the set-up is so old it creaks. If you’re looking for another turn of the screw in 8 minutes that’s expecting a bit much. You know anything bought in that antique shop is going to be cursed. And the old man (Pedro Monteiro) is even given a warning!
*. Just by the way, for various reasons not worth getting into I’ve been doing a lot of jigsaw puzzles myself recently. A number of these come by way of flea markets or yard sales (they are quite expensive if you buy them new). And the percentage chance that a puzzle bought in that store, in that box, still had all the pieces is approaching zero. But of course it’s a magic puzzle so that doesn’t matter. I also think it’s strange that the puzzle doesn’t have a picture on the front of the box, or anywhere else, showing what it’s supposed to be of. That makes it a lot harder, though not impossible, to solve. I have a neighbour who thinks that looking at the picture is somehow cheating, but she’s a bit weird.
*. Of course the real puzzle, given all this, is why the old man wants to buy that puzzle anyway. There are some clues. He seems to live alone but there’s a photo of a younger man and a woman. He and his wife? Then he puts on a record and it plays “We’ll Meet Again.” Does this amount to some kind of death wish? How does one interpret the chiming of the clock? His time is up? And washing his face? A sort of ritual ablution before crossing over? I mean, clearly he doesn’t seem that interested in saving himself from the doom peering over his shoulder.
*. But while I can understand wanting to die so — perhaps to be reunited with his wife but maybe just to put an end to such a dull and lonely existence — why choose such a nasty way to go? Embracing one’s fate is one thing, but this particular fate?
*. I ask these questions because they’re all the puzzle the film has. I liked it and though it was nicely turned out by the Al-Safar brothers (Basil and Rashad), but I wouldn’t call it scary, suspenseful, suggestive, or surprising. I’d say it’s made for the campfire but I think we have to update that reference to the Internet. Short films are for browsing, and I’m not sure how much that changes our response to them. The world of doing jigsaw puzzles while a record plays in the background belongs to another age entirely. Can we still relate? With so many windows open, how concerned are we by the bogeyman appearing in one?