Talking Movies

April 18, 2014

Magic Magic

Juno Temple stars as an American student visiting Chile and losing her grip on reality as a result of insomnia.

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The highly-strung Alicia (Temple) arrives in Santiago to stay with her cousin Sara (Emily Browning), who is spending a year at university there. No sooner has she arrived than she’s bundled into a car with Sara’s boyfriend Agustin (Agustin Silva), his studious sister Barbara (Catalina Sandino Moreno), and their obnoxious American friend Brink (Michael Cera) for a long road-trip to an island off the Chilean coast where Agustin’s family has a holiday home. And Sara stays behind, pleading an unexpected college exam that she has to take. Alicia’s confusion, linguistic incompetence, clumsiness and insomnia see her rub everyone up the wrong way. Feeling persecuted and ever more insomniac Alicia starts to hallucinate phone conversations with Sara, imagine disapproving stares from Barbara, and even become morbidly afraid of an amorous dog. When Sara finally arrives she finds Alicia nearly unspooling completely.

Magic Magic isn’t really a horror film, but it does have elements of ‘social horror’ as Stephen King dubbed it. Early on Barbara deviously baits Alicia into patronising the marginalised of Chile, and from that moment we suspect Barbara, but are also terrified on Alicia’s behalf that she’s going to be victimised by these people as a sacrificial ugly American paying for the sins of the CIA. That things don’t work out quite so predictably is to the good. Instead Alicia’s insomnia sees her start to lose her grip on reality, and, on a more mundane and relatable level, make poor choices that compound her existing difficulties. The irony of course is that this island is beautifully photographed by Christopher Doyle and Glenn Kaplan as a paradise, but Alicia can only see its geographic isolation and its related threatening strangeness.

Temple is less over-exposed than in Killer Joe, but reprises some elements of that naïf performance. Michael Cera, however, reprises elements of his This is the End cameo to startling effect. It turns out that Cera can be skin-crawlingly creepy and his cruel capricious sexually predatory Brink is a very memorable villain that renders George Michael Bluth a distant memory. However, despite the committed performances and the patient descent into insomniac madness writer/director Sebastian Silva doesn’t really seem to know where all this is headed. A climatic sequence seems to fulfil many of the social horror elements hinted at earlier, but then peters out into an ending that may have been intended as enigmatic but just feels inconsequential. Cera, the executive producer, obviously sniffed a good opportunity to shake up his screen persona, but what is the film’s wider purpose?

Magic Magic is eminently watchable; especially if you’ve ever been thrown among strangers and had to awkwardly sink or swim socially, or lain awake for hour after frustrated hour; but it’s not essential viewing.

3/5

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June 2, 2011

Conspiracy Cinema at the IFI

The IFI is presenting a season of films this June playfully titled High Anxiety. As ‘filmnoia’ these are meant to encapsulate the post-Vietnam post-Watergate zeitgeist of chastened 1970s America. Invariably there is much idolatry of the faultless New Hollywood that was tragically killed off by Star Wars in this positioning, which regular readers of this blog will know I have little truck with. The truth is there are some great films here, some over-rated but good films, and by far the best film is the most defiantly Old Hollywood: The Manchurian Candidate, which is oblique in its violence, sexually charged without being sexual, and whip-smart and heart-breaking in its scripting; the kind of thing that Hitchcock might have directed on one of his darker days at the office. Let’s briefly trot thru the line-up of films in the season.

The Manchurian Candidate June 1st & 2nd @ 6:25pm

The pick of the bunch is the first out of the blocks. Catch this tonight if you can. A superb Laurence Harvey stars as Raymond Shaw, an unpopular soldier who unexpectedly returns as a war hero from the Korean War to the political machinations of his terrifying mother Angela Lansbury, a witch-hunting Senator’s wife. Frank Sinatra is his old army c/o trying to work out the mystery of just what happened in Korea that fills his men’s nightmares, and director John Frankenheimer ratchets up the tension as George Axelrod’s script satirically skewers McCarthyism while breaking your heart along the way.

Klute June 4th & 5th @ 4.50pm

Sex, lies, and audiotape. Widely regarded as the film that legitimised profanity as a hallmark of serious movies Alan J Pakula’s 1971 exercise in paranoia sees Donald Sutherland’s enigmatic small-town PI John Klute travel to the big city to investigate the possible involvement of his friend with Jane Fonda’s nervous call-girl, and her possible involvement in his mysterious disappearance. The sound design is extraordinary as ambient noise swamps the possibilities of recording the truth, and this arguably established the house-rules for all subsequent 1970s filmnoias. Keep an eye out for Roy Scheider’s ridiculous outfit in his cameo as a pimp.

The Parallax View June 6th @ 3.00pm & 7.05pm

Alan J Pakula again, this time Warren Beatty is the lead in a 1974 thriller about a journalist investigating the possibility that the powerful corporation the Parallax Organisation has been behind not only a political assassination allegedly carried out by a conveniently dead lone gunman, but the clean-up murders of all the witnesses of the assassination. The dazzling and famous highlight comes when Beatty is subjected to a test to see whether he fits the criteria for maladjusted misfit that Parallax likes to use for its lone gunmen. You know, people like say Lee Harvey Oswald, or James Earl Ray…

Chinatown June 8th @ 2.10pm & 6.30pm

If Roman Polanski’s film was just a little less self-regarding it would be a far better film noir. Jack Nicholson gives a terrific performance as the cock-sure PI suddenly out of his depth against Faye Dunaway’s ambiguous femme fatale and John Huston’s monstrous patriarch, and there are wonderful moments and lines throughout. The enormous self-importance of Robert Towne’s screenplay sinks the film from its potential heights but is unsurprising given that he reputedly told anyone who would listen that the success of the 3 hrs plus The Godfather was entirely attributable to his dialogue polish on one 3 minute scene…

The Conversation June 9th @ 6.45pm

Francis Ford Coppola’s small personal movie between The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II stars Gene Hackman as a surveillance expert who finds a simple job developing into something much more disturbing, which eventually pushes him to the very limits of his sanity. Walter Murch’s sound design is extraordinary and best appreciated on a big screen, but I’ve never thought that Coppola’s script was good at making us care about the possible murder plot Hackman stumbles upon; the physical distance his camera maintains from the camera being sadly replicated as an emotional distance maintained by the audience from the characters.

Night Moves June 12th @ 5.00pm

A staple of late-night TV schedules (TV programmers can be very easily amused sometimes) this 1975 movie sees Arthur Penn and Gene Hackman reunite for a more subdued outing than their 1967 collaboration Bonnie & Clyde. Hackman is a defeated PI who discovers his wife in adultery, but is unable to satisfactorily resolve that situation or any other case he is working on. Perhaps a lament for the lost idealism of the New Frontier in the age of Watergate, or perhaps just another deconstruction of American myths by Penn that has aged far less well than his Bonnie & Clyde.

Rollover June 18th @ 3.15pm

Yes, Alan J Pakula for a third time. He never stopped making paranoia movies, and this 1981 effort may have had the amazing good fortune to become relevant thirty years after being dismissed as pessimistic and incomprehensible, because of the second defining event of the last decade, the credit crunch. Jane Fonda stars as a company director’s widow who romances Kris Kristofferson’s financial trouble-shooter, brought in to steady the corporation, who ends up involved in an extremely risky deal with Saudi Arabia that goes belly-up in such spectacular fashion that it leads to the meltdown of the entire Western economy.

Winter Kills June 25th & 26th @2.00p

Adapted from another book by Manchurian Candidate novelist Richard Condon, this thriller stars John Huston as Not Joe Kennedy, who after 19 years is told by his son Jeff Bridges that he finally has a good lead on who really assassinated Huston’s other son, the President Not John F Kennedy. Winter Kills had an extremely troubled production, with director William Richert having one of his producers murdered, so this is a welcome chance to belatedly see Huston chewing scenery in such a ripe scenario of what could be classified alongside Inglourious Basterds as the genre of fantasy historical revenge movies.

Missing June 25th & 26th @2.50pm

Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek star as the father and wife of an American missing in Chile, in acclaimed Greek director Costa-Gavras’ first American film. An attack on Henry Kissinger’s brand of realpolitik, here masked by hypocritical mutterings about truth, justice, and the American Way, this vividly recreates the feel of Pinochet’s Chile; a regime enabled by CIA connivance in the overthrow of Allende’s democratically elected socialist government. There is a sense of kicking a dead donkey about this as Nixon was already out of power, but Costa-Gavras at least clothes his political points in empathetic flesh and blood characters.

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