Come Together (2016)

2016 #185a
Wes Anderson | 4 mins | streaming (HD) | 16:9 | USA / English

Come TogetherChristmas adverts are all the rage these days, thanks to the likes of John Lewis and their beautifully affecting tributes to the holiday season / twee pieces of emotionally manipulative crap (delete as appropriate). This year clothes retailer H&M got in on the act by hiring everyone’s favourite go-to example of an idiosyncratically quirky director, Wes Anderson, to helm a short film-cum-advertisement — the first part of that equation being why I’m reviewing it here.

For me, Anderson pitches the tone just right. Rather than making a four-minute festival of sappiness that rots your brain with its generic sugary sentiment, or a music video for a slow breathy cover of a once-famous song, or a long build-up to a cheap punchline, Anderson instead brings his own familiar style to a brief narrative that comes to a surprisingly heartwarming conclusion. In the process, he’s made an advert that doesn’t feel like an advert — another reason to factor it in here.

I suppose for that same reason it almost fails — I’m no more or less likely to shop at H&M than I was before (in truth, I had to even double check they were a clothes retailer) — but as brand awareness goes, well, it doesn’t make me want to kick their teeth in until they go away and never bother me with one of their stupid adverts every again. Suck on that, John Lewis.

4 out of 5

Come Together can be watched on YouTube here.

They Live (1988)

2015 #123
John Carpenter | 94 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 18 / R

Sci-fi parable about aliens controlling us via subliminal advertising.

There’s action, including a comically lengthy fight between lead good guys Roddy Piper and Keith David, but the meat is satire. Thirty years on, it remains thematically relevant; perhaps even more so. That no one’s actively considering a remake suggests how Hollywood has lost its political teeth. I’m not saying they should remake it, just, y’know, Hollywood.

In fact, considering the apparently-victorious ending is kinda bleak if you think it through, perhaps they should make a sequel with the status quo unchanged decades later. It might be rubbish, but there’s potential.

4 out of 5

This drabble review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2015. Read more here.

No (2012)

2014 #96
Pablo Larraín | 112 mins | TV | 4:3 | Chile, USA, France & Mexico / Spanish | 15 / R

No1988: due to international pressure, Chile’s dictator, General Pinochet, has acquiesced to a vote on whether he should continue ruling the country. Despite the violent takeover he orchestrated, and subsequent murders and ‘disappearances’, the country has prospered under his rule, and many — especially influential affluent people — are keen for him to stay. The anti-Pinochet “no” campaign are allowed a daily slot on state-controlled television in the run up to the election, and they hire advertising exec René Saavedra (Gael García Bernal) to mastermind the campaign. Cue internal conflict — the politicos want dour films highlighting Pinochet’s evil; René wants to use the language of advertising to sell the promise of a happy future — before the campaign itself finally gets underway, and the “no” campaigners become targets of the ruling regime’s evil tactics…

That’s most of the plot anyway, but the devil is naturally in the details — I mean, you probably know how it’s going to end, right? It’s how writer-director Pablo Larraín (adapting from a play by Antonio Skármeta) tells this tale that matters, and fortunately he does so with considerable class and intellect, albeit with the occasional obtuseness of Art cinema.

Most strikingly, the whole thing is shot on genuine ’80s videocameras, complete with poor resolution, colour bleeding, and all that jazz. Sounds like a pretentious gimmick, doesn’t it? It actually works rather well: it quickly evokes the era, it allows genuine news footage from the period to blend seamlessly with freshly-shot material (and it really does), and you quickly stop noticing. Or at least I did, but then I also watch a fair amount of classic TV, so I’m used to 4:3 black bars and the picture quality of video (though to suggest something likeThe Good Guys classic Doctor Who has picture quality as poor as this is an insult to the professionals who made it and those who restored it for DVD). In an era where the goal is often clean-as-possible ultra-HD images, it’s almost nice to see something so left-field used for excellent effect; a bit like when Pixar got over digital precision and started using soft-focus and the like in Ratatouille.

It seems many have made comparisons between No and the TV series Mad Men, because both are period-set pieces about ad men and the power of the work they produce. It’s a superficial comparison, though. For all its funny camerawork and subtitles, No is a much more straightforward story than Matthew Weiner’s frequently allegorical and oblique TV series. At the same time, Larraín’s film can be trickier to follow, guiding us less clearly through the thought processes behind the adverts, for example. Both have their merits, but the similarity is an incidental one — liking Mad Men does not mean No is a film for you, and vice versa. Unless you really like to see behind-the-scenes of advertising in any form, that is.

And on another aside, is it telling that Channel 4 premiered No in the run up to the Scottish independence referendum? The two votes had surprisingly similar results: about 45% for Yes and 55% for No; except in Chile it was “no” that was the vote for change. Very different political situations, of course: one vote was trying to overthrow an oppressive right-wing regime that had brought misery and instilled suspicious pseudo-Americanised values for far too long, and the other was trying to get rid of General Pinochet. Ho-ho-ho! The Bad GuysBut seriously, there’s not really a comparison between the brutal military regime that ruled Chile — which nonetheless many were happy with because it had brought modernisation and prosperousness for some — and the voluntary union between the rest of the UK and Scotland. I’m sure some of “the 45”, as they now call themselves, would identify with those battling for freedom in this film, but I think that might be taking it a bit far.

No has enough of the thriller about it to be entertaining and overcome its occasional desire to be needlessly Artsy. It’s also about the power of people to democratically bring about change, it’s lesson here perhaps being that for that to happen you need to stop lecturing the public on things they “should” care about and engage them on their own terms. Something a lot of organisations could benefit from learning.

4 out of 5

No is on Film4 tonight at 1am.

This review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2014. Read more here.

Cut (2009)

2009 #20a
Joe Wright | 2 mins | streaming

CutIs Cut an advert or is it a film?

On one hand, websites featuring it always refer to it as a “short film”; it stars film star Keira Knightley; is directed by BAFTA-winner Joe Wright; tells a story in a film (as opposed to advert) style; and is a whole two minutes long.

On the other, it’s paid for by Women’s Aid to front a campaign to raise awareness of domestic violence; it ends with a message to this effect, also featuring no title card or credits; it’s not listed on IMDb; it’s been shown for free among adverts in cinemas and online; it would’ve appeared on TV too if Clearcast hadn’t banned it for being “too violent”; and it’s only two minutes long.

It’s an advert, isn’t it? But it shouldn’t’ve been blocked from TV, which has incensed me enough to pretend it’s a film for the purposes of my little corner of the Internet.

Or half pretend, because purely as a film it isn’t great. It’s well shot by Wright, but some of the dialogue is too on-the-nose to convince and it’s actually slightly padded near the start — so slightly that in anything longer it wouldn’t be noticeable, but when something’s only 125 seconds, every one counts. On the other hand, it tells its story economically, using single shots to establish a lot of detail about characters, their lifestyles and their relationships, aided by Knightley playing a version of herself. In this the length and depth of story chosen are well-balanced.

When the violence comes, it’s moderately brutal. And here’s the rub — it’s arguably not brutal enough to cover the horrid reality of what some people have to suffer. It’s been made suitable to be shown on TV in a slot where people will see it — which, for its aims as an awareness advert, is completely appropriate. In the wake of Clearcast’s stupid ban I was expecting something more severe, which counterintuitively means the violence is more shocking for what it isn’t. Maybe whoever makes the decisions at Clearcast should watch Hostel: Part II before any appeal — or, to be honest, the 12A-rated Dark Knight might suffice.

With a brief running time and an important message to put across, Cut is a 5-out-of-5 advert, if only for the amount of talk and awareness it’s achieved. But I said I was trying to judge it as a film, so I’ll be a little tighter:

4 out of 5

Cut is available to stream for free on YouTube. More information about the campaign’s impact can be found on Wikipedia.