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Bleeding housework and bloody violence

Yesterday, I ran over my foot with a sofa. I was vacuuming at the time, which just goes to show that housework can be really bad for your health. Anyway, it really fucking hurt. There was even some blood. Annoyingly, it didn’t swell up and today there is minimal bruising, meaning that I have nothing to show for the pain and hardly any basis for milking the sympathy. Still, I got out of having to do the upstairs, which is a bonus.

Last night’s Game of Thrones was satisfyingly violent, as usual. A sword through the head and out the mouth the other side was particularly brutal, though couldn’t have happened to a nicer person. I’m half way through Season 4, by the way, having watched two episodes a couple of years ago, didn’t stay the distance, but decided to give it another go recently. As a result, I’ve indulged in a veritable binge over the last few weeks. At the moment, it seems to have descended into a series of odd couple buddy road movies, following (among others): Arya/ The Hound, Stannis/Davos (whose name I can’t say except in a Swiss accent), and Brienne/Podrick. It’s almost turning into Lord of the Rings. I’m not entirely sure what the purpose of Brienne’s quest is – yes to protect the Stark girls, but what does she do with them once she’s found them? Probably just stand around looking menacing, which I accept she does very well. And judging by his notably black mop and more than a passing resemblance to Gendry, I’m going to make a punt that Podrick is going to turn out to be another Baratheon bastard, who somehow escaped the earlier cull.

I’m loving how everyone’s accents are slipping the further into the series we get. Littlefinger is becoming more Irish with every episode and there are increasing flashes of Scot emerging through the Hound’s guttural grunts. Also, I’ve only just noticed that none of the younger Stark children share the family’s northern accent, and wonder if it’s a thing in Westeros that everyone speaks in clipped RP before the age of 15, when they suddenly wake up with an entirely different vowel system. It would explain why Theon/ Reek shares the Stark way of speaking despite not joining them until the age of eight, by which time you’d expect the power of speech to be fully formed.

Incidentally, harking back to Season 3, I have a theory as to the origin of the Frey family’s funky headgear. Tom Brooke, who plays Lothar Frey, is a friend of a friend, and it was pointed out to me at the time that he starred in a Stella Artois advert as a downed WWII pilot. Watching it back, it could be easily construed as the inspiration for the Frey look. The irony that the pilot was betrayed in the advert by those giving him shelter is probably pushing the link too far, but I like these little conjectures.

It’s The Mountain and the Viper tonight, which I’ve heard doesn’t end well. But in the words of Ramsay Snow, “if you thought this was going to end well, you obviously haven’t been paying attention”.

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Day 31: Oslo, August 31st (2011)

We reach the end of the road with this poignant, slow-moving and very personal tale of Anders, a recovering drug addict who is about to emerge from a term of rehab. Aptly enough in a month of film (which stretched out to a year), it’s a story about journeys, of making sense of relationships, and trying to find your place in the world.

As the title suggests, the city of Oslo plays a prominent part in the film, providing a backdrop for Anders’ journey home, his attempts to confront the past and come to terms with his future. Given a day release from his treatment centre for a promising job interview, Anders takes the opportunity to call on a number of old friends. Ranging from a sympathetic old school-friend with a seemingly idyllic family life, to an old girlfriend traumatised at hitting 30, his encounters chip away at the facade of his generation’s societal ambitions and expectations.

In terms of structure and plot, it resembles 25th Hour in its depiction of a man trying to re-connect with his life. In both cases, there is a strict time limit for this journey of re-discovery, but the sentences are entirely of their own making. Oslo is less heavy-handed in its symbolism; this is not a state-of-the-nation type allegory; it exists on a much more personal level, while still undermining the aspirations and pretensions of the cultured middle-class. The men are either trapped in a sexless marriage, or having it off with girls ten years their junior, while the women are either struggling to conceive, or noticeable in their absence (his ex-girlfriend doesn’t answer his calls; his sister removes herself from his problems).

It also reminds me of The Swimmer, a 1968 film starring Burt Lancaster as a character who swims his way back home through the back gardens of his affluent neighbours. Starting off with all friendliness and smiles, people become increasingly more hostile the closer he gets to home, indicating a dark secret that gradually bubbles its way to the surface. Water is a recurring image in Oslo, as Anders tries to drown himself in the opening scene, then ends up in a public water park with a group of shallow friends. To quote Stevie Smith, he is “not waving, but drowning” in his over-riding sense of depression. Far from cleansing his sins, the water only seems to weigh him down further. He succumbs to alcoholic temptation after ten months dry. Water turns into wine, which turns into gin, which turns into heroin, and it all goes to pot.

With a quietly powerful central performance, the film challenges the social structures that allow talented, intelligent people to fall through the cracks, while never fully absolving Anders from his own, personal responsibility for his predicament. But in a bustling capital city, full of his childhood friends, he spends most of his time alone, walking the streets, or sitting in cafes listening to other people’s lives happening around him. Like Maya in Zero Dark Thirtyhe ends the film framed in a doorway, returning home but utterly alone. In this instance he chooses to draw the curtains, electing to spend his final moments looking inwards, shutting out the world one last time.

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Day 30: Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Zero Dark Thirty is the most recent film on the list, released in January 2013. Originally a story about the failure to find Osama Bin Laden, it was hastily re-written after he was killed in May 2011, providing a dramatic climax to a complex and politically charged chapter of US history.

Jessica Chastain plays Maya, a dogged CIA operative whose sole focus over the course of ten years is to find (and, ultimately, kill) Bin Laden. From overseeing the torture of Al-Qaeda operatives to tracking mobile phone leads in Pakistan, she is unswerving in her dedication. The loss of a friend and colleague in a botched operation adds a personal motivation to her obsession and she goes out on a limb to prove that her path is the right one, and she’ll be damned if anyone tries to stand in her way. When the leads point to a fortified house in Abbottabad, the stage is set for the final assault.

The film stoked some controversy on release, mostly due to the depiction of torture as a means to gain information from detainees. It wasn’t so much the graphic nature of the scenes, rather, the suggestion that solid intelligence derived from illegal methods was a determining factor in the success of the mission, and therefore justifiable. The film weighs up both arguments; in an early instance they fail to stop a terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia as the information gleaned proves unreliable. But the techniques ultimately serve to unearth the central line of enquiry: identifying and locating the courier who will lead them directly to Bin Laden, lending credence to critics of the film’s ambiguous moral message.

The film is very clinical in its approach: there is no room for small talk, idle chit chat, or indeed, much of a social life. The small flashes of relaxation and downtime are swiftly interrupted by a blast of reality. Almost immediately after Maya joins her friend Jessica for a meal, the restaurant is rocked by a car bomb. Jessica bakes a cake shortly before an arranged meeting goes disastrously wrong. Dan, the CIA interrogator, feeds his ice cream to some monkeys. A few scenes later he tells Maya they’ve been killed by the troops. It’s almost as if the characters are being punished for displaying these brief moments of humanity in amongst the brutality they both mete out and endure. Sentiment has no place in this world.

Maya’s role is both central to, and removed from, the action. She drives the narrative with her single-minded obsession, but when the goal is finally achieved, she is unable to share in the cathartic celebrations. While the troops whoop and high-five each other, she stands alone by the corpse, seemingly unemotional. The final scene echoes The Searchersas she is framed in the opening of a plane’s cargo hold, the only passenger in an otherwise empty carrier. Returning to an uncertain future, she dwarfed by both the mechanism of war, and the vast expanse she is leaving behind.

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Day 29: Track 29 (1988)

Boy, this is a weird film.

I usually quite like narratives where the mysterious stranger disrupts the natural order of things (Six Degrees of Separation being a case in point), but whereas the latter made some interesting points about the use of language as an unreliable social unifier, I’m really not sure whether there’s a coherent central metaphor here. Maybe that’s the point, but I do like my surrealism to have some semblance of consistency (if that’s not a complete contradiction).

Gary Oldman is the mysterious young man who appears (literally) out of thin air, hitching a ride on the bridge of Cape Fear River. This doesn’t bode well. After thoroughly pissing off a trucker with an unhealthy mother obsession, he is summarily deposited at a truck stop, where he encounters Linda (Theresa Russell) and develops an instant, disturbing fascination.

Later that night, Oldman appears, Exorcist-like, under a street lamp outside her house she shares with her husband (Christopher Lloyd), a model railway enthusiast with an interest in extra-marital spanking. The young man continues to dog her every move, revealing himself to be the son that she conceived from an ill-advised sexual encounter as a teenager, and who was forcibly taken from her at birth.

As mother and son begin to bond with increasing levels of intimacy, Christopher Lloyd surfs the orgasmic levels of “intellectual hygiene” at a model railway convention. He returns to a home destroyed by the re-emergence of the past, and the manifestation of his wife’s hidden, traumatic secret.

It’s evident from quite early on that the mysterious stranger is a figment of Linda’s disturbed imagination, embodying her deteriorating state of mind with his increasingly childlike and violent babble. Throughout the film, he ages in reverse, reverting from a grown man to a baby,  His final frenzied burst, naked, from a foetal position in a cupboard to stab her husband to death, mirrors the ending of one of the director’s more famous films, Don’t Look Now. His action also serves to absolve her of the memory and trauma of the conception and birth; in essence, the film ends before it begins. The mysterious stranger erased from her life, she leaves the house a contented woman, totally ignoring the pool of blood that’s gathering across the ceiling.

I’m really not sure what the film is trying to say. It’s left deliberately ambiguous whether the baby was conceived through rape or consent, and whether is was the sex or the birth that provided the most trauma. Either way, the subsequent depiction of Linda as a bored, mentally fragile housewife obsessed by dolls  and desperate for a baby with her uninterested husband is lazy and, despite the visual flourishes, unimaginative storytelling. At the beginning, Gary Oldman provides appropriate menace as the sinister man-child, but any intrigue falls away as the madness sets in and his performance becomes increasingly over-wrought, making the film as unbalanced as the characters it portrays.

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Day 28: 28 Days (2000)

I still haven’t seen Gravity at the cinema, and while this mid-career offering from Sandra Bullock isn’t exactly the next best thing, it certainly serves as a reminder how effortlessly she can carry a film. It was also available on Netflix when 28 Days Later was nowhere to be found. I’ll put that one on the list for next year.

28 Days is a strange hybrid of a film – part comedy fluff, part-preachy morality tale, neither of which really emerge victorious. This makes for some uneasy tonal shifts as it veers from laughing at the motley bunch of rehab inmates (step forward Alan Tudyk) to oh shit, the troubled teen just died of an overdose.

Sandra Bullock plays a high-flying, fast-living journo, who, together with her English (read: constantly sozzled) boyfriend, wreaks havoc at her sister’s po-faced wedding. While her drunken dancing looks like (dare I say) normal exuberance when faced with such humourless disapproval, her subsequent theft and destruction of the nuptial limo while several times over the limit might be pushing things a bit far. Faced with the choice of jail or 28 days of rehab, she opts for the latter, hoping to ride it out and carry on as before.

Needless to say, she soon begins to see the error of her ways, ditching the corrupting boyfriend and starting her life afresh. Whether that’s mainly an effect of group therapy, the afore-mentioned suicide, or Viggo Mortensen looking pretty, is open to debate. But Sandra Bullock gives a charismatic performance and manages to hold it together despite the sentimental and somewhat predictable trajectory. Special mention should go to Dominic West as the boyfriend – livening up every scene he’s in and providing a dose of down-to-earth debauchery that stands as a welcome antithesis to the film’s moralizing message.

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Day 27: Chapter 27 (2007)

Today, it was a choice between a film about weddings and bridesmaids, and a character study of a sociopathic loner assassin. No contest.

Although they really should try combining the two genres. A succession of blushing brides gunned down every time they go to a dress fitting? I’d be up for that. Call it “Blood in the Bridal Shop”. Or wasn’t that a radio play?

Anyway, Chapter 27 follows three days leading up to the killing of John Lennon by Mark David Chapman. Focusing solely on the killer-in-waiting and his obsession with The Catcher in the Rye, this is a reflective, meandering film that relies heavily on the performance of Jared Leto. Virtually unrecognisable from his close encounter with a bucketful of eye-liner in Alexanderhere he’s piled on the pounds and ambles around like the bloke out of the BT ads who turned up in last week’s Miss Marple.

I didn’t really know much about the death of John Lennon. It was, literally, just before my time. When there was a thing a couple of years ago about finding out the No.1 single at the time of your birth, I remember being quite chuffed that it was Woman by John Lennon rather than Shaddap You Face by Joe Dolce, which snuck in a week later. I didn’t even connect it  with the he’s-just-died-so-let’s-buy-all-his-records effect.

So, if nothing else, it was quite interesting to find out a bit more about the circumstances surrounding his death, notwithstanding it being in the company of the world’s most unreliable narrator this side of Keyser Soze. A bumbling misfit with the voice of Hannibel Lecter and the words of Holden Caulfield ringing in his ears, David Chapman is a man adrift. You get the feeling there’s a Travis Bickle in there somewhere too, waiting for the “real rain to come and wash all this scum of the streets”.

The films throws up a whole number of half-baked reasons, asides, justifications for his actions, but nothing strikes home. In his eyes, John Lennon runs the gamut from Christ-figure to phoney to devil-worshipper (he’s staying in the building where they shot Rosemary’s Baby – incidentally the funniest line in the film: “What, the movie?” “No, the baby.”)

It’s difficult to latch on to a sense of character in amongst all this. Maybe that’s the point – David Chapman doesn’t actually exist apart from a sum of pop culture references that he’s imbibed and which inform his entire sense of self and perspective. At the end he’s Gollum-like, openly arguing with himself in the street before the car draws up and he’s forced to follow through with the reality that he’s created for himself.

It’s a painful study of idolatry and hate, and the permeable line that connects them. It’s not a film that I would watch again in a hurry, which is not to do it a disservice. Just that it’s very uncomfortable being in the company of a character so unsure of his place in the world that he ends up latching onto someone else’s fame, in the worst way imaginable.

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Day 26: L.627 (1992)

You know that feeling when you get to the summer solstice and wonder where the hell the year went?

Yeah, that.

Welcome back to THE LONGEST MONTH IN FILM HISTORY.

There are no films with 26 in the title. Nil, nada, nichts. Well, there wasn’t when I started the challenge. There’s now a film called Special 26, released in February. But I didn’t know that, so I opted for this French procedural cop drama instead.* All the right numbers. just not necessarily in the right order.

It was a good choice. L.627 (a reference to an article of drug legislation) has the aura of a 70s police investigative drama like Serpico – a lone crusader tackling an immoral world with nothing more than a by-the-book attitude and an impressive abundance of facial hair.

Following droll cop Lulu as he negotiates his way through a ramshackle (and nigh on psychotic) drug squad team, the film is at turns gritty, hilarious and tragic. The main obstacles to success (however that’s defined) is a crippling lack of funds, chaotic bureaucracy and colleagues more interested in ticking boxes than solving crimes.

There is no real plot as such – the film lurches from one drug bust to another with little sense of achievement save for Lulu’s dogged determination to do the right thing. He’s fighting a losing battle. Whether it’s boozy colleagues having a few too many glasses of wine over a long lunch (no national stereotypes there then), or trying to avoid the station prankster (a Clouseau-esque running gag), it’s clear that his fellow officers don’t share his enthusiasm.

Between the crumbling portakabin of an office and the sleazy dives of backstreet Paris, this is an evocative social commentary on the insidious and never-ending inner city drug problems. It should be depressing, but there’s a very witty undercurrent that borders on the absurd, and which highlights the ridiculous lack of resources available. In the age of austerity, departments are stretched to the point where nothing useful can be achieved, save for the efforts of a single maverick with a natty moustache.

*I’ve just been reliably informed by someone nerdier than me that I could have gone for “LV-426”, which is, apparently, the planet in Aliens. But a) it’s not the title of a film and b) I’ve already seen Aliens, so ner.