Beyond the Valley of the Dolls

An enjoyably bad film, of not much value beyond being a snapshot of a period, and even then it rather over-eggs the sex, drugs and rock and roll. Did people really speak like that, or is it a writer's approximation of what kids in the 70s were like? The parties are all an embellished facsimile, refracted through Russ Meyer's own camp desires.

The film's best and worst character is Ronnie "Z-Man" Barzell: a flamboyant Shakespeare obsessive who loosely orchestrates the revels. He dominates every scene he is in – the ringleader of a host of grotesques that swirl around Hollywood. But the film can't help but want to punish such decadence. It reveals Barzell to be trans, and then a schizophrenic monster who cannot control his desires. The lesbian characters (although obviously leered at relentlessly) are treated better, but they wind up dead as well, leaving three married heterosexuals at the end. For all its transgressive posing, the film is less daring than it seems.


Wonder Woman

There is something quite apt in making the personification of the patriarchy (and villain of the film) into an old resentful man, rather than a hunky slice of beefcake. After all, these days CGI absolves the actor of needing to perform any feats of athleticism in action sequences. And it's a clever ruse to set up one burly alpha male as the bad guy, only to switch him with an unassuming, frail-looking member of the English ruling class. These were the kinds of pusillanimous creatures that sent the youth of Europe to die in trenches, after all. Ares embodies every single kind of privilege, playing games of divide and rule and dreaming of a world free from riff raff.

Wonder Woman is a symbol of the hierarchies being levelled. It's why she leaves Themyscira, which despite its heavenly appearance is an militaristic autarky ruled by a queen – not far from national socialism with the genders reversed. Diana speaks every human language, and cares for all living things equally, and yet the film must conform to genre expectations to the extent that the romantic interest is a buff American and the sidekicks are left to fill out the diversity criteria. It's a shame that Saïd Taghmaoui couldn't have the part of Steve Trevor. It would have made for a more enjoyable movie.

No matter. It's very good, with a nice enough message about evil not being the work of bad guys but of everyone, and that self-sacrifice can defeat it. Gal Gadot is superb in the role, selling her character's passionate distress at war, but also bringing a wry sense of humour to her interactions with all these weird men she has to encounter. In the cinema the effects and music are stirring, even if you've seen all these tricks before. The most depressing thing about it is the prospect of Wonder Woman again playing second fiddle to Batman and Superman in future films. Turns out she's more interesting than either of them.



Jake Gyllenhall is literally unbelievable as the unscrupulous thief spouting entrepreneurial gobbledygook who gets involved in filming crime scenes for local news. It's an unlikely composite character, which suggests that it is a metaphor for something else: Los Angeles, Hollywood, America, capitalism in general.

Although sensationalism in the news is the film's most obvious target, the lasting impression is of Lou's ridiculous management-speak being used to threaten, coerce and exploit the people around him. They don't have the economic security to resist his obscene offers. Lou's language of aspiration and empowerment ring hollow, and add a rich undercurrent of dark comedy to the film's proceedings.


Margin Call

Turns out the good guys in this Wall Street drama – the risk analysts who spot the error that precipitates the financial crisis – are both engineers by training. They could have spent their lives building tangible things, but the money to be made in finance was too much to turn down.

J.C. Chandor portrays this twilight world of investment banking as a place of constant alienation and existential bewilderment. Employees lose their jobs at random. No one is certain of where they stand relative to anyone else. The sense of people's work and words is often unclear. In some respects it reminded me of the numb absurdity of an Antonioni film.

This is captured in a great shot-reverse-shot sequence with Stanley Tucci and Demi Moore towards the end of the film. Both are supposed to be looking at each other, and normally that would mean having one to the left of the frame looking right, and the other to the right of the frame looking left. Instead, one is framed to the right and looks right outside the frame, and the other to the left looking left. There are supposedly talking to each other, but actually a dialogue is never achieved. They are speaking to the empty space around them, unable to make a connection.