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Olly Buxton "@electricray" (Highgate, UK)

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 [DVD]
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Jennifer Lawrence
Price: £10.00

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Amusing ourselves to death, Part III, 30 Dec. 2014
The novel on which The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I is based is, by a distance, the weakest of Susan Collins’ trilogy, so it is for commercial rather than artistic reasons Lionsgate have resolved on a two part treatment. That worked for Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows because it was an enormous (and excellent) book; beside it New Line’s three-part Hobbit melodrama looks like an exercise in rank cynicism.

So far, Francis Lawrence has got away with it here.

A couple of passages flag but, by and large, the narrative bounces along and the early exchanges, in which Lawrence sets out his conceptual stall, are excellent, and spoiled only by some silly acting by his namesake.

We rejoin the action with Katniss having been rescued, ensconced – or imprisoned? – within the fabled District 13. These District 13 guys are about as different to the ruling elite of Panem’s capitol as can be, except where they’re not: functionally unflattering jump suits and love of the democratic ideal is imposed on the people, whether they like it or not (the show-stealing Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), who has been “rescued”, emphatically does not: she misses her moisturiser).

Besides, the rebels already have a healthy regard for propaganda, they’ve boned up on their Marshall McLuhan, two legs are already better than four, and you just sense the iron gray hair of President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) has a touch of Snow about it.

In any case the proletariat has an alarming fondness for a collective fascist chant which First Comrade Coin takes no steps to quell as she addresses the huddled masses in a tone which is unadulterated passive aggression.

Behind closed doors, the message is: it’s all about the message.

In the mean time, Katniss does her bipolar thing, aided by an elite commando camera crew. We are never sure whether Katniss Everdeen is her own greatest asset or worst enemy, and patently, neither are her new paymasters in District 13.

So the schema is good, in early exchanges the acting less so, Jennifer Lawrence almost ruining by over-emotion a sequence where she returns to a blasted District 12, carefully rendered as a blitzed Palestinian ghetto but with twisted World Trade Center gantry punched through. She does settle down and the second half of the film is more nuanced, though it checks the archetypal waystations rather methodically as it goes. The rebels live in an underground bunker bred of The Empire Strikes Back and The Matrix: Reloaded, so it is hard not to see this film as a fugue on exactly the same theme. In many ways, it is.

It is poignant to see the late Philip Seymour Hoffman looking apparently well, and sad that his last film role is limited, but he enjoys himself in a nicely reflexive gag on the frustrations of green screen acting. Plutarch Heavensbee (Hoffman), a dried out Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) Elizabeth Banks’ magnificently stoic Effie Trinket and a bagged cat provide excellent comic relief, while Francis Lawrence feels obliged to have the intense Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and intenser Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) compete astrally in a bizarre love triangle with Katniss which is the weakest of Collin’s plot devices.

It’s an engaging film. Where Mockingjay succeeds best is in conveying Collins’ underlying political point: there are no impermeable boundaries between war, media, theatre, politics, propaganda and entertainment. Katniss is kitted out with high-tech gadgets like 007; we watch her progress on screens like Call Of Duty. We may be, as Neil Postman memorably put it, amusing ourselves to death, whichever side we think we’re on. On the other hand, Katniss’ few moments of solidarity with the poor huddled masses don’t work half as well as they did in the first two films.

It is difficult to say much more without spoilers, but we leave the game nicely balanced – President Snow sneaks an equaliser on the stroke of half time, so we can look forward to a total war resolution in the final instalment.

Olly Buxton

In Order of Disappearance [DVD]
In Order of Disappearance [DVD]
Dvd ~ Stellan Skarsgård
Price: £10.25

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The whitest of black comedies, 30 Dec. 2014
“In Order of Disappearance” is not a memorable title for a movie, but it’s a better one than “Prize Idiot”, which is the literal Norwegian translation of “Kraftidioten”. It is a film-maker’s in-joke, of course, and director Hans Petter Moland certainly has some fun with it as the credits roll.

Moland and his cast have quite a lot of fun throughout the film, in fact, which is not what you’d expect from a violent revenge thriller set in the arctic reaches of Norway.

Stellan Skarsgård is Nils Dickman, the snow-plough driver in the ski-resort of Beitostølen. When it comes to snowploughs they don’t do things by halves in the Arctic Circle, and Nils drives one big bastard of a snowplough. It can shift forty tons of snow an hour, and it throws it thirty five metres. It comes in handy, and no-one calls him names to his face. Indeed, despite his unfortunate surname (we are informed its Norwegian translation is “cock man”!) Nils’ position is of such utility in this community that he has been voted citizen of the year.

Nils’ (innocent) son is mixed up in a drug smuggling turf war and killed. When his wife walks out, her folded note containing no words at all, Nils forsakes his life of upstanding community service and sets about avenging the boy’s death.

This involves picking off the lower order gangsters employed by Greven (Pål Sverre Hagen, chewing almost as much scenery as Nils’ snowplough) one by one – hence the order of disappearance. This is carried out in brutal fashion, but cut with mordant humour as dry and chill as the local weather. Things go swimmingly until Greven unwisely attributes Nils’ activity to a crew of local Serbians, who do not take kindly to their guy being strung up on an elevation sign on the highway out of town. Little was Greven to know that 1389 – the altitude displayed in the sign – happened to be the date of the Battle of Kosovo, in which the Ottomans routed the Serbians and enslaved their lands. Serbians, led by their Papa (the ever-wonderful Bruno Ganz) are not amused.

Cue bloody, but hilarious, mayhem. Skarsgård and Ganz are the only ones who play it entirely straight; the supporting cast has a riot. There is a glorious nod to Fargo in the final scene which rounds the tone nicely.

If I had a reservation it would be a purely commercial one: Moland would get a far wider global distribution were this film scripted largely in English: Skarsgård and Ganz both have easily enough of a following in the US for this film to rate interest there, all Scandinavians in their home audience understand English perfectly well, and large parts of the film are subtitled in English (or Serbian) in any case.

Olly Buxton

Somersets Original shaving Oil 35ml
Somersets Original shaving Oil 35ml
Offered by Medideals
Price: £11.18

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The bee's knees, 10 Dec. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This is where Amazon's purchase history really helps validate a product's claims. I bought this product on 9 March, 2014. There have therefore been 276 days since I ordered it, and I have used it every time I've shaved in the meantime (usually not weekends or holidays, but every other day). I reckon I've had 190 shaves out of it, and about a quarter of the bottle is left, so I'm pretty much on target for my 260 shaves out of one bottle.

This stuff is great - no foam, no gel, no mess, nothing stuck in your ears - it's a small bottle that's easy to lug around. I'd never go back.

Can't recommend it enough.

Olly Buxton

Trekmates Men's Long John Legging
Trekmates Men's Long John Legging
Price: £21.59 - £25.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Merino BLEND, just in case you were wondering, 8 Dec. 2014
Note per the Trekmates website these are 50% merino, 50% polyester.

Proporta Leather Style Folio Case for Samsung Galaxy S5 - Black
Proporta Leather Style Folio Case for Samsung Galaxy S5 - Black
Price: £14.95

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars On being careful when handling delicate flowers, 3 Sept. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I am a clumsy so-and-so. It runs in my family. Owning something as intricate, sophisticated and clever as a Samsung Galaxy S5 was always going to be fraught. It is like a delicate and sweetly fragrant flower; I am like an Orang-Utan.

One day, not long after I bought it, when swinging from tree to tree as I do, I dropped it. It smashed. There was a little man in a pop up office on London Wall who repaired it in a jiffy. But he charged me £160.

"Be careful," he said. "Don't you know this is a delicate piece of machinery? You strike me as a bit of an oaf. Just be a bit sensitive."

A life lesson learned. I thought I should buy it a cover. I tried this thing that cost a fiver called a "Shock Proof Heavy Duty Builders Case Cover With Belt Clip & Built in Screen Protector". It made my delicate petal look like a transceiver from BattleField Earth. It did a job for a week, but then it fell apart soon after. It was no match for this Orang-Utan.

Then I remembered my Kindle, and the lovely faux leather Proporta Leather Style Folio Case I have for it. I thought I should find something similar for my Galaxy. And here it is; handsome, strong, reasonably priced, and not resemblent of something from Star Trek.

It has the same folio style cover, in a handsome faux leather (somewhat firmer in consistency than my Kindle equivalent), with a clever little hole in the back fo the camera. The phone snaps into the case and is held snugly - even a little firmly.

And here is my problem. I need to take my Galaxy S5 out, every day, when I take the dog for a run. Getting it out is hard - the Proporta clutches it impressively. You have to work at it with your fingers.

I was working at it with my fingers when I inadvertently ruptured the LCD display by twisting or squeezing the phone somehow (not the Gorilla Glass; the screen behind it). Over 48 hours purply pink LCD juice leaked grimly across the screen. After that the screen was almost completely black. It was munted.

My Galaxy S5 is back with the little Fellow on London Wall for its second replacement screen unit and this time tomorrow I shall be £160 poorer. I blame myself, the Orang-Utan - but all the same, you must be careful when handling delicate flowers.

Olly Buxton

The Book Thief [DVD]
The Book Thief [DVD]
Dvd ~ Geoffrey Rush
Price: £4.99

5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not Cate Shortland's Lore. Suffers Accordingly., 3 Sept. 2014
This review is from: The Book Thief [DVD] (DVD)
There is a moving, beautifully-filmed story about a handsome young German girl struggling for her life, and to come of age, through an unlikely bond with a young Jewish refugee during the death throes of the Third Reich.

This isn’t it. That film is Cate Shortland’s remarkable Lore (2012), and if you haven’t seen it, you should.

About this film, which also concerns an orphaned German girl coming of age through a relationship with a young Jewish refugee in the dying days of the Reich, I’m not so sure. Director Brian Percival – he of Downton Abbey – paints by numbers, and his scriptwriter Michael Petroni has a tin ear for dialogue.

The opening aerial shot, swooping in over a layer of cloud, is trite enough to be a studio logo animation. As we dive through the cloud to track a steam train puffing excitedly through snow-bound countryside, one could be forgiven for deducing a Harry Potter instalment. But no: Roger Allam’s mellifluous baritone fills the soundstage and we are underway. Allam is the unseen voice of Death, and he intercedes periodically through the two and a quarter hours of this film to tell slow-witted viewers what is going on.

Yet Allam’s dialogue is aspirationally coherent and not actually meaningful. If you let his velvet gravel, John Williams’ lachrymose music and Florian Ballhaus’ luscious images do their work, you may switch off altogether and still get the gist.

The gist comes through loud and clear elsewhere: 10 year-old Liesl, (Sophie Nélisse) has been orphaned and comes to live with Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson), of whom Hans is warm and kind, and Rosa cold, practical, and interested only in the money she will earn from fostering. They wind up sheltering handsome young Jewish refugee Max (Ben Schnetzer), and everything else proceeds exactly as you would expect had you any experience with this sort of story (The Diary of Anne Frank, Schindler’s List, and so on), only without any edge or challenge to expectations. Petroni’s awful dialogue affords the cast no scope to practice their craft and the viewer no need to practice inference. Instead, through wholly artificial dialogue delivered in cod German accents, which lapse for easy words into actual German (nein, ich bin nacht kidding) the screenplay beats us over the head with every plot development.

The actors, accordingly, flounder. Rush is as good a character actor as you’ll find these days, and he works a small miracle breathing life into Hans. Watson singularly fails to animate Rosa, and with their tender years the two child leads, Nélisse, and Rudi (the exceedingly Aryan-looking Nico Liersch) have no chance. Nélisse is an engaging personality, and may go far, but at 11 she was a few years young for this to generate the sort of vertiginous pubescent tension of Lore: Hannelore (15, but played by 18 year-old Saskia Rosendahl) is truculent, nuanced, vulnerable and organic. Liesl is (by necessity) wide-eyed and saccharine, though she does give one of her classmates a good kicking early on.

(Contains spoilers)

Thereafter the screenplay pulls punches it should have thrown heartily: despite being threatened, Liesl’s basement secret is never discovered. Nor is her book-thievery. Max is not captured. Despite being selected and threatening to run away, Rudy never gets sent to military training, and while Hans does get conscripted, before long he’s home again nursing nothing more than a limp and percussion deafness in one ear. A book burning is portrayed rather like a glum Guy Fawkes’ night. Even Kristallnacht is sanitised. Max reaches death’s door from fever a couple of times but, after some mawkish scenes, is turned away each time.

(end of spoilers).

These missed beats mean the long middle of the film stumbles around like a blind man in a dark room in search of an exit, but who keeps walking into cupboards. Eventually he finds his way out, courtesy of a ten-ton weight unprompted by any of the dramatic devices or character arcs that have been carefully established, but by this stage – over two hours in – my patience and forbearance had long since been exhausted.

Olly Buxton

Blockbusters: Why Big Hits - and Big Risks - are the Future of the Entertainment Business
Blockbusters: Why Big Hits - and Big Risks - are the Future of the Entertainment Business
Price: £5.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Whither the Long Tail?, 25 April 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
If you're the sort of person who sees only one movie a year, that movie is unlikely to be Dersu Uzala.

If you are a movie executive that piece of learning ought not to seem radical or new. It certainly isn't a function of the information revolution, and would have been as true when Derzu Uzala was released in 1976 as it is today. Yet it is the intellectual cornerstone of Anita Elberse's provocative new book "Blockbusters" which, while dismantling the New-Age canard of the Long Tail is otherwise far less overwhelming than the commentariat seems to believe.

The blockbuster hook is simple: if you are a global media conglomerate like Warner Brothers or Real Madrid, you are better betting the farm on a small number of "blockbuster" projects than diversifying your resources and "managing for margins" a portfolio of smaller projects. Elberse compares Warner, who did this, which NBC TV, who did not, and reaches her conclusion.

Her false premise is to suppose that, in plumping for yet another Harry Potter movie, Warner Brothers really is "risking big". As a matter of fact, it isn't. It is goosing its scale, but risking small: the five films on its annual slate will all be totally formulaic (those that are not remakes or sequels are in tried-and-true genres), will rely on well-established stars and directors, and will deploy immense production resources to deliver superficial fireworks without challenging norms or demanding any great commitment from viewers.

Warner targets precisely the sort of person who sees only one - or five - movies a year, because that's how many it makes.

Some all-but-self-evident assumptions:
*The marginal return on each additional movie ticket you sell tends (but never quite gets) to 100%: All other things being equal, the more people see your movie, the greater your profit margin will be.
*Most filmgoers see a given film only once.
*More filmgoers see five movies a year than see 50.
*Those filmgoers who see only five films won't be seeing Derzu Uzala.

If you take these assumptions as good then, if your movie studio has the requisite resources, it is only sound business sense to make your movie one of the five movies that almost everyone will go see. Likewise, if you don't, reset your priorities and your target demographic accordingly. But expect that your revenues will be accordingly constrained. There are only so many swine before whom to cast your pearls.

This is, as Elberse notes, of a piece with refocussing business strategies adopted by Apple, GM, Fender and other resurgent business lines: don't try to be all things to all people; clear out your inventory, figure out what you're good at and hit that channel relentlessly. Quit wasting time at the periphery.

Leave the tail, that is, for those poor toilers who have no option but to target it. But make no mistake: these toilers are vital to your ecosystem, and without them the big fish could not do what they do: the small guys discover and nurture new talent, do the research and development and build reputations of up-and-comers to the point where, for a Warner Brothers, they become safe enough to bet the house on. Even though she intimates this, Elberse's theory asserts not that only blockbusters should be made, but that *blockbuster-sized studios should only make blockbusters*: everyone should focus at the top of their own segment of their market.

This is really only sound common sense.

The question which Elberse doesn't address is what effect this has on the statistical distribution of film budgets. If every producer applies a blockbuster strategy in its own segment, this will tend to make the head taller and fatter, and the tail skinnier and, at the limit, shorter. And so it transpires: According to the Financial Times, in 2000, 1 per cent of artists accounted for 71 per cent of pop music sales. Last year, the same proportion accounted for 77 per cent.

Perhaps Elberse's theory, which owes nothing at all to the digital revolution, suggests the anointed few are getting smarter, and are hitting their channels more clinically than they used to. But down the tail lurks a much more interesting question: what happened? How was Chris Anderson so wrong? How is it that, all things being considered, the infinite time and choice vouchsafed by digital revolution has led to us exercising fewer choices?

Olly Buxton

Noah [DVD]
Noah [DVD]
Dvd ~ Russell Crowe
Price: £7.00

30 of 47 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars In Which Darren Aronofsky Jumps a Shark, an Elephant and a Kangaroo., 10 April 2014
This review is from: Noah [DVD] (DVD)
Darren Aronofsky directed Pi, Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan. These are really good, unique, imaginative, unsettling films and I don't recall the audience sniggering during them. They feature extraordinary performances, notably from women of a certain type: small, bird-like creatures with dark eyes who are strung with piano wire: Natalie Portman and Jennifer Connelly being fine examples.

Aronofsky has made a new film: Noah. It is a Biblical epic. He has struck the tone a long way towards the Peter Jackson end of a spectrum which didn't exist before Peter Jackson invented it. He has taken large liberties with some aspects of the Genesis story, inventing rock-encrusted fallen angels and a Kingdom of brutish descendants of Cain, but he has kept faithful to others a modern fellow might have jettisoned: how much more fascinating an examination of the human and divine it might have been were some of those who perished noble and good. The general view is that this is some kind of environmentalist parable. It's a poor parable that chooses for its standard-bearer a glum misanthropic monomaniac.

Connelly (for whom many men my age have a soft spot, having fallen in love at first sight of her in Labyrinth when we were twelve) has signed up, so too have the redoubtable Anthony Hopkins, Hermione Granger (another moody, compact and tensely-strung brunette of Aronofsky's type) and, well, Ray Winstone. They've all agreed to stand behind Russell Crowe, a man who has demonstrated great charisma and masculinity throughout a long Hollywood career, but never much of an inclination to act. Then again, given the films he's chosen to appear in, he's rarely needed one. And nor does he here.

Things proceed disappointingly. The first spot of rain takes an hour and a quarter to fall. The birds and beasts arrive with a great digital flourish, but are swiftly sedated and play no further part in the film. Connelly (who has form for playing Russell Crowe's wife) is obliged to over-emote at every turn. She looks haggard and careworn, possibly from the effort. Hermione also emotes wilfully. Crowe mumbles portentously into his beard and stumps grumpily around the ark believing, upon scant grounds, that doing God's will involves ensuring the annihilation of his own family. I don't remember that from Sunday School. Villainous Ray Winstone is, oddly the one left to advance the point that Noah's is not an especially constructive outlook. The only one listening is Ham.

We are left with a kitchen sink melodrama wherein Noah contemplates the almighty, Hermione wants to keep her baby, Shem and Japeth keep up the numbers (for all the effect that have they may as well have been sedated with the giraffes) and Ham simpers about wishing there was a chick left on God's wet earth he wasn't related to. Ray Winstone lasts longer than the Bible mentions, perhaps so someone is around to present a humanist perspective but we all know what must happen in the end. It's not especially edifying: on the Biblical view, there must have been quite a few unspeakable acts for any of his descendants to have made it as far as the theatre to hear the lessons of this primordial eco-warrior.

Olly Buxton

Famous Blue Raincoat
Famous Blue Raincoat

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great, great record - seems to have disappeared without trace., 5 April 2014
This review is from: Famous Blue Raincoat (Audio CD)
My first experience of Leonard Cohen was to see "Young Ones" hippy Neil look dolorously at the camera and say, "No-one ever listens to me. I might as well be a Leonard Cohen record".

I first came across Jennifer Warnes as she tag-team wrestled her way through the theme to "An Officer and A Gentleman" with Joe Cocker.

And there, were logic my constant and only companion, it would have ended. I can't really remember how I did come to get hold of this record, but it may have had something to do with a Stevie Ray Vaughan fixation I was going through at the time. I recall being dismayed to discover SRV's only playing credit was on the first track, First We Take Manhattan, (a song written by Cohen for Warnes for this album. That is to say, this version IS the original - so Cohen purists who complain about Warnes' interpretation are talking through their hats!

In any case my dismay only lasted as long as it took for track two to kick in. Bird on a Wire is almost a standard now, but the shimmering production and crisp delivery coaxed me gently on until I was fairly pinned to my seat by the end of the title tune. The rest of the album is enthralling: the production's lush but not sugary, the delivery's cool but not clinical. There are a couple of curve-balls: A Singer Must Die is rendered a curious a capella fashion, which recalls a Brecht opera, and the mid-tempo rock of First We take Manhattan is, in all honesty, slightly out of whack with the Sunday Morning feel of the rest of the album. But it kicks the album off so well, and it's such a great reading of the song (Stevie Ray's gorgeous playing is like in temper and as lyrical as his solo on Bowie's "China Girl") that you can forgive the album that modicum of unevenness.

Warnes is a beautiful singer and she delivers Leonard Cohen's songs so that you cannot fail to be awestruck by how good they are. These lyrics are just sublime.

The odd coda to all this was actually hearing the Leonard Cohen versions of these songs in the flesh, which this album led me to. Compared with Warnes' satin touch, Cohen is a far more demanding listen, but it is worth persevering with: Leonard's rendition of "Famous Blue Raincoat" is positively frightening.

Olly Buxton

Post Tenebras Lux [Blu-ray]
Post Tenebras Lux [Blu-ray]
Dvd ~ Nathalia Acevedo
Offered by skyvo-direct
Price: £13.09

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A tree falls in a forest. But does it make a sound?, 5 Mar. 2014
I enjoyed Carlos Reygadas’ last film, Luz Silenciosa (Silent Light), though much more in the week following its screening than in the theatre itself. With hindsight, I believe I judged it harshly in my review. I wonder whether I’m about to do the same thing again.

Reygadas’ output is industrial-strength art-house: You need to pack a soft cushion, an imaginative frame of mind, and to have put your disbelief in colloidal suspension. You must stand ready to invent, apply and discard as many narrative hypotheses as it takes to find one which will help you make sense of what you’re seeing.

With Luz Silenciosa, a film about a love triangle in a Mennonite community, I found one, if late in the piece: the idea that the camera itself is an intruder in the private world of the drama, necessarily intervening with what goes on. This was conveyed through continual reminders of the presence of a lens throughout the film, through rain-spots, sun flares, window frames and, on one occasion during a highway storm seen through a windscreen, all three.

The very act of observation irreparably changes the dynamic of the situation: only when someone is there to hear it, does a tree falling in a forest make a sound.

In Post Tenebras Lux (After Shadows, Light) we are, again, permanently aware of the camera, this time because Reygadas has, selected an almost insolently square aspect ratio and applied a lens which refracts, blurs and distorts the fringes of the picture. We feel as if we are inside a box brownie, or perhaps inside a dream.

A dream: Now there’s a narrative hypothesis that might help.

A fashionable term for this screenplay is non-linear; another way of describing it is all over the place. We open with a toddler happily chasing cows and dogs around a wet football field at dusk as a brutal storm rolls in. It is quite an opening scene (as striking as, yet as different as could possibly be from, the sublime opener of Luz Silenciosa). The film principally concerns a couple and their two children, Rut and Eleazar (played by Reygadas’ own children), whom we meet at several points during their childhood. Much of it is spent in remote Mexican woodland country, where the family has an uneasy relationship with each other, their animals, and labourers who steal, drink, smoke pot, vandalise trees and convene AA meetings in a corrugated iron shed.

Wait – falling trees! As if to validate my tentative theory, we see labourers maliciously sabotaging trees, deep in the Mexican rainforest, hacking part way through their trunks, only for them to fall, later, when no-one but the all-seeing, fish-eyed camera lens is there. It sees, and hears, so we do. We change everything. George Berkeley would be pleased.

Beyond the Mexican bush, the scenes seem wilfully disconnected. Wealthy city folk at a Christmas party argue the toss between Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. At a distance, the family gambols in the surf, and mid-scene, the children regress ten years to toddlers. A couple of scenes take place, apropos absolutely nothing, on a rugby field in England. There is a long orgy scene in a French Sauna which manages to be faintly comical and decidedly menacing at the same time.

I don’t pretend to have fathomed this film at all. But some impressions are forming, and by the end of the week I might have a theory about it. For the time being these ideas coalesce, like dream sequences in a box brownie:

There are threats all around us, natural, man-made and self-made. They thunder from the heavens and rise up from the ground. They emanate equally from our servants and our masters. Our own view is necessarily purblind; we are boxed in, constrained to see the world in terms dictated by our biology and our own distorted preconceptions. Yet, amongst all this, we remain exuberant, and confident, and out of angst, pain and loss comes vitality, love and advancement. Even as it ends, life goes on.

This may all be summarised in a passage from War and Peace, quoted rather obnoxiously at that dinner party:

Pierre had learned, not with his mind, but with his whole being, his life, that man is created for happiness, that happiness is within him, in the satisfying of natural human needs, and that all unhappiness comes not from lack, but from superfluity.

I’m not sure. This time next week, I may have figured it all out.

Olly Buxton

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