Possibly the weirdest film I’ve ever seen: Toni Erdmann

You might think that a two and three quarter hour German language film about an annoying prankster father and his career obsessed, high-flying daughter would not appeal, but believe me, it is brilliant.

The title is a pseudonym the father adopts when pretending to be alternately a life coach, a consultant, an ambassador and the friend of a famous tennis player. He is actually a piano teacher whose last student has quit and whose dog has just died. He decides to head to Bucharest in an attempt to connect with his businesswoman daughter, who is ruthlessly engaged in promoting her career as a downsizing business consultant.

What follows is a hilariously painful series of encounters in which the father appears at her office, at parties and business functions, often wearing a bad wig. In doing so, he exposes the emptiness, lovelessness and hard-heartedness of her life.

This is perhaps the weirdest film I’ve ever seen, but also one of the funniest and most touching. Put 3 hours aside. It’s worth it.

“Toni Erdmann” was written and co-produced by Maren Ade. It stars Peter Simonischek and Sandra Hüller. It won five awards at the 29th European Film Awards: Best Film (a first for a film directed by a woman), Best Director, Best Screenwriter, Best Actor, and Best Actress.It also won the European Parliament LUX Prize.It was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 89th Academy Awards. (Wikipedia)

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How a comedian had over 1,000 paedophiles indicted

Barry Crimmins is a comedian. His aims in life are to overthrow the Government of the United States and to close down the Catholic Church. So you can see he thinks big. After establishing himself as the edgiest comedian in the U.S.A in the ’80s, especially in terms of political satire, Crimmins turned his attention to waging war on paedophiles.

He was called as an expert witness to a Senate Judiciary Committee in 1995 and provided evidence that resulted in over 1,000 indictments against people trafficking paedophile images and online stalking of children. He exposed the then leading American internet provider, AOL, as being complicit in, and profiting from, online chat rooms for paedophiles.

Crimmins is still active as a performer and campaigner. He was raised a Catholic, but now regularly tweets the Pope, asking to be excommunicated.

His amazing story is told in the documentary “Call Me Lucky”. It is, at turns, hilarious, heartbreaking and inspirational.

Grim and Grimmer. Film Review “Sunset Song”

Spoiler Alert – This review reveals key elements of the plot of “Sunset Song”

Terence Davies is perhaps my favourite film director. He makes beautiful films. They often draw on his own childhood in England. They often prominently feature damaged male characters. He unashamedly disavows any need to entertain or please his audience. When asked why his films are often slow and dark, he said “They are a gift”. I don’t find his films boring or dark. Visually they are stunning, and the soundtrack is carefully constructed to complement and lift the film.

So where does that leave “Sunset Song”, his latest film, about a rural Scottish family at the outbreak of the First World War? This is a longish (2 hrs 15 mins) film based on a novel by Lewis Grassic Gibbon.  The Scottish landscape is stunning, although I’m not sure the sun shines quite that much in Scotland. The story follows Chris Guthrie, from childhood through to married life. She is played brilliantly and convincingly, I thought, by a relatively inexperienced actor, Agyness Deyn. To my ears, her Scottish accent was convincing. All the roles, in fact, are well-played with the possible exception of Chris’s husband, the confusingly named actor Kevin Guthrie.  The scene where he returns on leave from the front did not convince me at all.

There is a lot of violence in this film, without too much blood. Chris’s father is particularly abusive to her brother, who submits unflinchingly to the violence. Chris’s mother is victim to the father’s sexual violence, which is eventually too much for her. Chris herself is unscathed until her war damaged husband takes out his anger on her. Unlike her brother, she does not submit meekly.

Other than some happy times immediately before and after her marriage, there is not much light in this film. However, I suspect it is a film, like Davies’ others, that will linger in my consciousness. His determination not to lightly entertain us is front and centre in this film, as is his preoccupation with the damaged male psyche, the pointlessness of war and the negative influence of organised religion.

In cinemas in Australia now (September 2016)

 

crime Lord

I went to see “Legend” yesterday, with my 19-year-old son. The film is about the notorious London East-End gangsters, the Kray twins, who ‘ran’ London in the 1960s.

I was aware of the Krays as a teenager in London, and read some fascinating books about them. Even on paper, you could sense their power, their charisma, and their downright evil.

The film does a good job of portraying these characteristics. Tom Hardy plays BOTH Krays, in an astonishing piece of acting. He even manages to make the twins look different, and projects the differences in their personalities: Reggie, the hard-nosed businessman who menaces more often than man-handles; Ronnie the psychopath for whom violence is often the first resort. The complexity of their relationship is well presented. It also shows the fear-based esteem in which they were held in their community. Nobody is completely evil (although Ronnie must have been close) are they? Perhaps the only criticism is that the role of their mother is downplayed, whereas in the books I’ve read, she was a dominant figure in their lives.

A few years ago, I wrote a prose poem loosely based on one of the Krays, although it could equally apply to any other gangland figure: the Richardsons for instance, who were the Krays’ rivals in London at the time. It alludes to the almost Christ-like status of such a gangster:

crime Lord

   Do you remember how nobody spoke when he came into the pub? And nobody dared look up in case they caught his eye. Every bloke in the place bowed the head when Reggie walked in. Almost genuflected. As if he was Christ Almighty. And how he would intone a low “evenin’ to you boys”. To which we would all respond in murmured unison “and to you Reggie”. And how he would sit at the bar with his back to us for an hour or more. And beckon anyone he wanted to commune with. To sit on his right hand side. To discuss whatever was troubling him. In low prayer like whispers. To sing his praises. To get his blessing. And how he followed Jack into the gents one night. There was a bit of shouting, a bit of sobbing as Jack confessed. Begged salvation. Then a lot of screaming, followed by silence. Except for the sound of taps running. And Reggie came out, but Jack didn’t. The barman offered up a whisky, which Reggie duly sank before leaving. Didn’t pay of course, never paid. And how I was the one went in to see about Jack. Found his body. And blood all over the walls. Do you remember? The place would never relax, even after Reggie left. Like some part of him was still present. Listening, watching over us, all-powerful. He’s dead now of course. Died, for his sins, in the nick thank God. And how a multitude turned out for the funeral. Not sure if it was in honour or for the salmon sandwiches afterwards. Or to say “good riddance”. But if it was “good riddance”, no one was saying it out loud. Afraid he might rise from the dead perhaps. They all bowed their heads like they did when he was alive. And nobody spoke. I remember that.

Copyright Mike Hopkins 2015

Poem a Day 2015 #27 – Inherent Vice

Poem number 27 for April 2015. Over the weekend I watched a very strange and very (to me) amusing film called “Inherent Vice”. It’s based on a Thomas Pynchon novel and features Joaquin Phoenix (great actor) as a spaced out, hippy private detective operating (I think) out of a dentist’s surgery, or maybe it’s a gynaecologist’s, I’m not 100% sure. Anyway, I marvelled at some of the dialogue, which is presumably Pynchon’s. I’ve taken several quotes from the film, and messed around with them to come up with some loose sort of arrangement of words.

Inherent vice

He was insulated
by secret loyalties
and codes of silence
until she arrived
like a bad luck planet
in his horoscope

she lay on him
a heavy combination
of face ingredients
he couldn’t read

her appetites ranged
from epic to everyday
he became
a hippy-hating mad dog
of Flintstone proportions
a little shit-twinkle
in his eye

gazing on her like
a precious cargo
that couldn’t be insured
but she was working
with a dark crew

by winter
she had removed
every trace of soul
he once had

His last words:
“It’s groovy being insane man”

 

 

Copyright Mike Hopkins 2015

Revolting

 

On Sunday I took part in the “March in May” demonstration in Adelaide, from Victoria Square to State Parliament. There were marches all over the country, protesting against the Abbott governments budget cuts to health, education, pensions, the ABC, and any other sector you care to name which Abbott does not like. The Murdoch media, predictably, was dismissive. The Sunday Telegraph headline was “The Ferals are Revolting”. Clearly the reporter had not noted the broad cross-section of Australian society represented by the demonstrators: school children, teenagers, parents, grand parents – every age group and every walk of life. Abbott has succeeded where Labor had failed – he has re-mobilised those who believe in a progressive Australia.

In the evening, coincidentally, I watched a gripping documentary called “The Square”, which happened to be about political demonstrators gathering in another square:  Cairo’s Tahrir Square in 2011. The documentary tracks four or five participant in the demonstrations: a Muslim, a couple of young activists, a singer and an actor Khalid Abdalla, who starred in “The Kite Runner”. The demonstrations led to the overthrow of the oppressive Mubarak regime, only to see it replaced by brutal military rule. They then forced the end of military rule to see it replaced by the rule of Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood. Again they forced the end of Morsi’s regime in 2013.

It is an incredible insight into a complex situation, which I had barely understood before. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Rotten Tomatoes gives it 100% and describes it as “… an immersive experience, transporting the viewer deeply into the intense emotional drama and personal stories behind the news”. You can watch the whole film on the net here and here.

I took some quotes from the film and, with some minor alterations, have combined them into a sort of collage:

 

The Square

They will take you away

for dreaming the wrong dream

 

The rich don’t demand freedom

Because they already have it

 

They made two ballot boxes

One for the killers

One for the traitors

 

We are not looking for a leader

We are looking for a conscience

 

Religion is not in a book or on paper

Religion is in your head and your heart

 

They are gassing the hospitals

Even the doctors are dying

 

The good and free are called traitors

The traitors are called heroes

 

The Square united us all

 

© Mike Hopkins 2014, except for quotes from "The Square"