Thursday, 14 March 2013
Bigger is not necessarily better. Like a juice-head chugging protein shakes and injecting steroids into his butt, Christopher Nolan’s films have been puffing themselves up. The muscles get larger and larger but the subtlety and nuance disappear.
I’m starting to revise my opinion of Nolan’s Batman trilogy. I’m no longer sure that The Dark Knight is the best film in the series - I’m starting to think that Batman Begins was the apex. Of course Begins has horrible fight choreography and Katie Holmes is woefully miscast, but it also has warmth, heart and excitement, qualities that the other films only sporadically recapture.
Nothing in the second or third films can match the intensity and sheer coolness of the demon Batman flying over Gotham, and nothing in The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises has the emotional weight of Bruce Wayne recalling memories of his father. The two sequels, in comparison, are rather hollow affairs.
Just take the big twist in The Dark Knight Rises, that Bruce Wayne’s girlfriend Miranda Tate is secretly Ra's al Ghul's daughter. She seems to be on Bruce Wayne’s side and then with ten minutes to go she does a 180, stabs Batman and then promptly dies. It’s like the Two Face story thread in The Dark Knight, but [deploy Jeremy Clarkson voice], on speed!
There’s nothing satisfying about the execution of this. It was so late in the game that I immediately rolled my eyes. Maybe if I were smarter or if I’d read the comics, I would have seen the twist coming and see all the subtle nuances and betrayals, but I had no idea and therefore it felt like it was too little, too late.
And the twist also kills the Bane character. For most of the film he’s this double hard bastard with a prissy voice and then all of a sudden he’s acting all subservient to a little French girl. He doesn’t seem so tough anymore. And they could have at least developed the relationship between Tate and Bane. We get a flashback showing that Bane helped her when she was a child, but other than that there’s very little between them. If they’d spilled the twist sooner, there might have been room for development. I mean, what do a couple of nutters like Bane and Tate get up to in the bedroom? Seeing as he’s a burly bastard, you’d think Bane would be in charge, but I bet that Tate gives him a good pegging in private.
And I disliked the Tate twist because it killed my metaphorical boner (sorry mum, forget you read that)! Throughout the whole of the film Batman’s been getting the shit beaten out of him and now he’s absolutely hammering Bane. I was almost bouncing up and down in my chair like a demented one-year-old. And then Batman does his really cool, gravelly screaming. Yes! Yes!! YES!!! Finally Batman has his balls back!!
Oh, but now he’s been stabbed... [metaphorical boner deflating]
And what a disappointing way for Bane to get finished off. Does Batman rip off his face mask and pummel him to death? Does he get thrown off a high building? No, Catwoman turns up on the Batpod and shoots him. It’s so quick that it’s almost off screen. You’ve built up this almost invincible villain and he’s killed as an aside. Yep, not really satisfying.
Elsewhere though you have a pretty solid movie. It’s nice to see that Bruce Wayne isn’t an invincible superhero and that the years have taken their toll - he has to hobble around on a cane and he’s grown a beard to communicate his inner grief. Most superheroes become tiresome because they’re so resilient - here Batman feels like Rocky, a plucky underdog who really should know better.
And so the first fight between Bane and Batman is much like the first fight between Rocky and Mr T. in Rocky 3. Batman tries his best but he’s completely impotent. He’s lost his eye of the tiger - he’s grown soft; weak. And then in a direct reference to the comics, Batman gets his back snapped. It’s an excellent way of raising the stakes - you really do find it hard to imagine a way that Batman’s going to defeat Bane.
Which makes the finale and Bane’s quick and easy dispatch all the more disappointing. Batman/Bruce Wayne spent all that time in a dark prison and he put his life at risk to climb out of a hole just so that Catwoman could turn up at the last second and shoot Bane? There’s no satisfaction to be gleaned from that.
And it’s especially galling because Bane is actually a pretty interesting villain. Like the Joker, he’s an anarchist, but he plays the role of a revolutionary hero. He’d have you believe that he’s here to liberate Gotham from the tyranny of capitalism. We see rich people being forcibly evicted from their homes and if you have any kind of resentment towards the establishment, you can see how easy it would be to be swept up by such evil. Why should I struggle when there are the few that have so much and help so little? Wouldn’t it be nice to level the playing field. Well, Bane does that quite literally...
And so the siege of Gotham and the phoney show trials are excellently done. Again, it’s about raising the stakes.
But yet again, Christopher Nolan drops the ball. The revolutionary forces and a large horde of cops do battle in the streets of Gotham. Considering that Bane’s force has tanks and machine guns, how would you decide to take them on? Through guerrilla warfare? Or would you all just walk down the middle of the street and allow them to open fire on you? Moronically, the cops decide to do the latter, giving rise to the utterly ridiculous visual of two bands of combatants charging each other down a single street with automatic firearms - Gangs of New York this isn’t.
The end of the movie tries to convince us that Batman died trying to save Gotham, but I’m sure that most people didn’t believe it. A nuclear explosion isn’t going to destroy the Bat! But the film does actually succeed in having a fairly moving conclusion. The film does its darndest to sell the death and who can resist a sobbing Michael Caine? The man is such an ugly crier that you can’t help but be moved to tears yourself. And some footage from previous films helps to sell the feeling - the scenes from Batman Begins, as always, being the most evocative. And even though it’s not a big surprise to see that Bruce Wayne did indeed survive the explosion at the end, it’s satisfying to see a peaceful, content Bruce Wayne enjoying a drink in the sunshine. After many beatings, he certainly deserves it.
But where to place the trilogy as a whole? It’s certainly not some sacred cow. The films are littered with faults and annoyances. But the good certainly overcomes the bad and it can hold its head high. It’s a trilogy where the quality is consistently strong - there isn’t one film that’s significantly weaker than the rest. And it’s nice that the story comes full circle with the League of Shadows (although the last minute Miranda Tate revelation still bothers me). So there’s certainly a continuity there. But anyone who wants to hold this up in the pantheon and declare it as the best movie trilogy ever is seriously deluded. These aren’t untouchable masterpieces of cinema - they’re just good entertainment and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Wednesday, 6 March 2013
Argo fuck yourself. And so the Academy clasps another crushingly mediocre and undeserving film to its geriatric bosom. Seriously, you think this is the best film of the year? This entertaining but overwhelmingly cliched thriller is the height of cinematic achievement for 2012? You must be shitting me. Listen to this. You’re watching a film that’s supposedly based on a true story. Therefore, you invest a certain amount of faith that most of the events depicted on the screen are based on some sort of truth. Of course you’re not naive enough to believe that everything happens as it did in real life. You know that some things have to be changed for dramatic licence. But then you come to the ending. The end of the film sees a group of American diplomats trying to flee Iran. The authorities are trying to locate them and their lives are in danger. But somehow, under a fake cover, they make their way to the airport. Simultaneously, little Iranian children are putting together shredded pictures of the diplomats so that the authorities can identify the missing Americans. There’s much sweating of palms as the Americans progress through the different levels of security at the Iranian airport. Will they blow their cover? Will they be captured? WIll they lose that ridiculous facial hair? There’s an undeniable level of tension in this sequence. Having once had to spend quite a while trying to convince an American border official that it was okay for me to enter the country (apparently I’d been visiting too much!), I know how scary and stressful these situations can be. But certain things in Argo just don’t make sense. For instance, we find out, after the Iranian revolution, that stricter immigration procedures have been put in place. Part of this involves customs forms. When someone enters the country, they fill out a form. A copy is given to the border official and the passenger gets to keep a copy, too. Then when the visitor leaves, the two forms are married together, so that the official knows that the the visitor entered the country legally and that they’ve left. But the diplomats here never had that form. So when they try to leave the country, handing in a form that Ben Affleck’s character stole when he entered Iran, there’s no copy for the customs officer to marry it to. The officials have a look around but don’t find anything. Eventually, though, they give up and the guy gets his passport stamped. Okay, it’s possible that a form can get lost - clerical error and all. But what about the five other diplomats? Won’t the guy notice something fishy when the next person also doesn’t have a customs form copy filed away out back? Apparently not. Not that we get to see the subsequent exchanges, as suddenly the entire group are through passport control and the matter is neatly swept under the rug. Things get a lot worse, though. Our group reaches their gate at the airport, only to be pulled out of the line by Iranian soldiers. They’re quickly interrogated. Pulses quicken but then one of the diplomats speaks passionately about his fake cover - they’re in Iran to look for locations to make a movie. He shows storyboards and explains the story and Ben Affleck’s heart soars (and presumably the audience as well) as his protege proves himself to be a fabulous actor. Okay, this is very Hollywood, but so what? It works. So the group is let on the plane....only those little hands have finally put the pictures together and a soldier is running through the airport screaming at the top of his lungs to stop the plane. Meanwhile the diplomats are finally sitting down. We’re safe! But they’re not...because the soldiers are ripping through doors, forcing their way through gates and revving up jeeps to intercept the plane that’s sitting on the tarmac ready to take off. Yeah, this makes more sense than radioing air traffic control! And then as the plane receives clearance to take off, they put their foot on the accelerator and try and catch up. Maybe this little jeep can ram this massive jet off the runway! They get closer and closer and beads of sweat are percolating on our concerned brows. The diplomats have no idea of the drama that’s unfolding on the runway but then Ben Affleck looks out of the window and sees the vehicle. Holy flurking schnit! They’re going to get us! All of my effort and all of my labour was for naught! But then the plane takes off. For a horrible second I thought fighter jets were going to be deployed and angry, bearded Iranians were going to try and intercept the passenger plane while kissing pictures of the Ayatollah. But thankfully this doesn’t happen and the passengers receive notice that they can finally booze it up. We’re out of Iranian air space! Cue hugs galore and sweeping music! What a load of fucking bullshit. None of this happened. None of it! Oh, the diplomats did board a plane and they did fly out of Iran but that’s about it. They arrived at the airport early in the morning, went through security without any issues and went home. Why the need then for car chases and screaming soldiers and phoney baloney Hollywood bullshit? What, just because this film is also about Hollywood means that it has to have a ridiculous Hollywood ending? Congratulations everyone, you’ve just sullied a perfectly entertaining political thriller. And it’s a real shame, because there’s a lot to enjoy about this movie. The performances are good, the direction is tight, it’s funny, it’s tense, it has an amazing opening sequence that expertly explains the situation at the time. It’s pretty much everything you need in a thriller. But then I guess because the real life escape was so routine, they felt the need to jazz it up. Okay, I don’t mind a bit of fluffing. But jeeps chasing jet planes? It’s too much. It’s way too much. Argo fuck yourself. And fuck the Academy as well! Yay, it’s a film about Hollywood saving American diplomats from angry, bearded foreigners! Let me stick my head up my ass and vote for this self-congratulatory nonsense!
Tuesday, 4 December 2012
There are many ways to try and make yourself look younger. Some people slather themselves in Oil of Olay, while others are a little more drastic and go under the surgeon’s knife. But what if you lived in the 16th Century? With Boots absent in the local market and a sorrowful dearth of plastic surgeons, what options do you have available to you? Cover yourself in ceruse and give yourself lead poisoning? Or maybe slaughter some virgins and cover yourself in their blood? Oh yeah, that last one sounds like a brilliant idea!
But how does one come upon such a drastic idea? Do you have to be born with the demented mind of Vlad the Impaler? Perhaps. But striking your servants also helps. And hitting them so hard that you draw their blood is especially important. And then once you’ve done this, don’t forget to smear the blood all over your face and crazily tell yourself that you look years younger.
This is what Erzsébet Báthory, a Hungarian countess, does. Enraged at the failure of a relationship with a younger man, she blames her age. And sadly, all the make-up in the world does little to ease the wrinkles and the insecurities that come with them.
Thank heavens then for servants and virgins and the restorative powers of their blood!
Based on the life of a Hungarian psychopath and mass murderer, The Countess is an unexpected project from writer, director and actor Julie Delpy - I’ve never known her to voyage into such dark, murderous territory. But it’s not a particularly worthwhile venture.
Hamstrung by horrible acting and leaden writing, The Countess kind of feels like a Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, minus the poetry and complexity. Here women are collected for their blood but there’s little sense of tragedy or gravity.
A large portion of the blame must fall upon the relationship between Báthory and her younger lover István. They share a night of passion together and István is almost beside himself. But he’s such a wimp and his affection has such a queasy, fawning quality that you find it hard to understand what the Countess sees in him (besides his fit, young body). Does it please her ego to have attracted such a young man? Does he give her feelings of self-worth? It has to be something she’s projecting onto him because István himself is an empty vessel.
Their moments together are probably some of the worst since Titanic. You know how the women cooed and their hearts fluttered when that steamy hand hits the car window and when Rose holds poor, shivering Jack in her arms, his cherry well and truly popped, and how all the guys responded by rolling their eyes and snickering because Jack has immediately placed himself in a subservient position? Well, my reaction was much the same. So you’ve had some earth-shattering sex? Have some dignity! No need to be a clingy child about it. Just strut over to the fridge and finish that leftover curry as a reward for a job well done. Okay, I know they didn’t have fridges back then, but you get the idea. Go and hunt a deer and roast it over an open fire before ripping it apart with your bare hands? Would that be the 16th Century equivalent of raiding the fridge?
Before they can shack up and live happily ever after, István’s father finds out about his son’s relationship and prevents his son from seeing the Countess again. Wow, just when you thought the character couldn’t be any more dickless! Daddy has locked you up and handed you the sternest ever cock block. And to cap it all off, István’s father makes his son marry someone else and even writes some letters to Báthory, pretending that they’re from István to kill the relationship off for good.
And so the seeds are sown for Báthory’s descent into madness.
To be fair, once the Countess goes ape shit and starts bathing in people’s blood, the film becomes a hell of a lot more watchable. But that doesn’t mean it gets any better. The scene where the Countess yells at her underlings to find a beauty remedy that actually works is ridiculously hysterical.
But it does have a kind of car crash quality that at least makes you want to find out what happens next. Ooh, she’s slowly draining her maid of blood. Will the maid realise that she’s being killed and try and make an escape, or will she just meekly accept it?
And there’s also plenty of comedy in the kinky S&M relationship that develops between Báthory and a young count. Count Vizakna enjoys being beaten and so therefore we get to see this brutally ugly Count get belted by a somewhat bored Julie Delpy. Okay, so you go from having this ridiculously pure, innocent, twinkly love to kinky S&M. That’s a big 360. It’s like you’ve gone from missionary to water torture with gimp masks in the span of twenty four hours.
Perhaps more impressive than this though is the fact that the Countess designs a special blood extracting seat - virgins are strapped into a chair and then a frame with spikes is shut around them and their blood is collected. So now she’s like the Himmler of virgin blood extraction? She no longer has to worry about slowly bleeding girls or messily murdering them - she can kill them in an orderly, systematic fashion.
And so it goes for the rest of the film...
Towards the end there’s a half-assed attempt to add some ambiguity. It’s put into question whether these murders ever happened or whether it was a conspiracy to take away the Countess’s power - the men in the story seem to be uncomfortable with a woman wielding power. But it’s added so late in the game that the damage is done.
To be fair, there are a couple of good moments in The Countess, such as the creepy moment when Báthory is bathing in blood and sees herself in the mirror - we see her deluded point of view and her reflection looks much younger than the reality. But moments like this are few and far between - for the most part The Countess is a hysterical collection of wooden acting and stilted dialogue; it’s a clunky, awkward film.
Wednesday, 7 November 2012
Oh, the various ups and downs I’ve experienced during the making of Cloud Atlas.
Up: they’re adapting one of my favourite novels!
Down: Oh shit, the Wachowskis are involved. I still haven’t forgiven them for The Matrix Reloaded and V For Vendetta.
Up: Tom Twyker is also involved. Brilliant! Perfume: The Story of a Murderer was one of the great unsung films of the last decade and it vastly improved upon the source material.
Up even further: A five minute trailer is released and it’s amazing. The music, visuals and the feeling behind it are perfect. This could be a really special film.
Down: I actually go and see the film.
Looks like my Wachowski-related fears were well-founded. A subtle, playful, philosophical book is turned into a gimmicky hodgepodge with too much action. There’s a lot to admire in the movie but there’s also a lot that is wrong.
Structurally, the film is a horrible, horrible mess. In the novel, you have six stories. One begins and then halfway through, it’s interrupted. And so on and so forth until you get to the final story, which is allowed to play out in its entirety. The remaining stories are then wrapped up until we end back up where we started.
The decision here, and it’s not an unreasonable one, is to cut back and forth between the different tales. But the editing is terrible. Sometimes you get long stretches where you never rest for more than sixty seconds on any one story. This restlessness harms the movie immeasurably and ensures that you’re never particularly invested in any of the characters. It kind of reminds me of the end of The Return of the Jedi where you have three battles going on at the same time and then also The Phantom Menace where you have four - there’s just too much cutting.
Part of me wishes that this was made as a BBC mini-series, with each episode focused exclusively on each yarn (and structured like the novel). It would allow each story to breath and help the larger meaning to come slowly into focus. I feel that someone like Krzysztof Kieślowski would have been perfect for this.
Instead we have to make do with the Wachowskis and Tom Twyker, who realise that the masses are an impatient lot and need to eat all of their cake at once. And so all the stories play out simultaneously.
At the beginning of the movie I was hopeful that this strategy would succeed. Once we get past the credits, each story is slowly introduced. Wonderful. This isn’t going to be the hyperactive mess it could be. [half an hour later] Oh fuck, they’re going crazy with the editing.
One glaring instance where the editing hurts the movie is during the Luisa Rey story. She’s a reporter who kicks a hornet’s nest at a nuclear power facility and her life ends up in jeopardy. Indeed, at one point, she’s even run off the road by the killer Bill Smoke.. In the book this works perfectly. You’ve spent time getting to know the character, you like her, you’re rooting for her and then she’s rammed off the road to her presumed death. You then have to wait a couple of hundred pages to find out what happened to her. It’s a great cliffhanger.
But in the film, the attempt on Rey’s life is intercut with other stories and the power and surprise of the moment is lost. And also, because the stories are all intercut, we immediately find out what happened to her.
The film also does a poor job of conveying the short, intense relationship between Rey and Dr Sachs (played by Tom Hanks in the movie). He meets her once, for about a minute, and next thing we know he’s on a plane, confessing his love for her before he’s assassinated. We don’t feel any of the passion between the two characters and the impact of his murder is lost. (The trailer does a far better job of conveying the emotions.)
I was also disappointed with how gimmicky the make-up looked (the actors play multiple characters). I can kind of understand the point of it. The filmmakers want to show how interconnected we all are and how we as people are tied to those who came before us and those who will live after we die. I also guess it was done for practical reasons. The film cost a massive $100m and it would have required many more actors to fill the roles had they not struck upon the idea of having a repertory (a couple more big name could have easily added a few more million to the budget). But some of the make-up looks terrible. Hugo Weaving as a woman works in a ghoulish kind of way (and suits the comic nature of the Timothy Cavendish story), and Tom Hanks as an Irish thug is surprisingly enjoyable, but Doona Bae as a white woman looks weird in the extreme, as does her as an hispanic lady. Susan Sarandon’s stunt nose in the first story is also glaringly horrible - there was absolutely no need for it and it only served to take me out of the movie.
My wife was also annoyed with the actors playing multiple roles for the broader philosophical implications. Do the characters played by each actor represent a reincarnated soul? And if so, why do some of the characters the actors play differ so wildly? Hugo Weaving seems to play nothing but pricks while Tom Hanks is all over the map (psycho, thief, lovestruck scientist, psycho, actor, hero). Personally, that aspect didn’t really bother me. I didn’t see each character played by each actor as a reincarnated soul - I just saw it as a technique; a visual way of illustrating that all of the stories (and the grander human story) are linked.
But it is a little annoying that the filmmakers decided to make more out of this element. In the novel it’s very subtle - the only suggestion is that each of the main characters has a birthmark in the shape of a comet. How does this link these people? After all, each one is connected in action - each one commits an act of rebellion or rails against an oppressive system. But does it mean that they’re the same spirit? It’s up to you.
But the movie is a lot more overt in this theme. But at the same time, it also serves to make things more confusing.
To offer a positive for the movie, I loved the story about Robert Frobisher. Rather bizarrely, the action is moved from Belgium in the novel to Edinburgh in the film (to tenuously link the story to the Timothy Cavendish one - in the movie they take part in the same building), but it’s the only tale that packs an emotional punch. The best scene in the film by a country mile is the one where the doomed composer hides from his lover while atop a spire in Cambridge. The sun is setting and Frobisher is ruined - he refuses to let his lover see him this way but spies on him for as long as he can. It’s one of the best scenes I’ve seen in a film for ages and Frobisher’s final suicide is just as powerful.
I also really enjoyed the Timothy Cavendish story. Here we get a few well-needed laughs. The highlight being the ‘injury by pussy’ scene. And although it felt a little rushed, the Luisa Rey story was also enjoyable. The murder of Sixsmith, in particular, was as strong, surprising and brutal as I hoped it would be. I just wish it would have packed more of an emotional wallop. In the book you really get the feeling of love that existed between Sixsmith and Frobisher and it has a poignancy that Sixsmith is reading these letters right before he’s killed. The movie manages to get the brutality across but misses out on the sadness.
A massive, major success for the film is the movie’s main musical theme. Having heard it in the trailer, it was somewhat annoying that it only appeared about two thirds of the way through the movie but it was amazing how significantly the film improved whenever it was used. It may be the best theme I’ve heard in a movie this decade.
It certainly ensures that the film ends on a high. Adam Ewing’s assertion that an ocean is a multitude of drops and that therefore each person has an importance and significance in the world, wouldn’t resonate as strongly without this musical theme playing.
But such moments only make the sense of disappointment harder to swallow. The Somni story, for instance, is a travesty - it’s turned into a Star Wars-esque action spectacle. And Tom Hanks as Henry Goose, trying to poison Adam Ewing, is unsubtle in the extreme. When I read the book, Goose’s malice wasn’t apparent to me at all but here it’s signposted from the beginning. And Hanks really needs to be pelted with several large hams for his acting at the end of this story.
I also found, on film, that the Sloosha’s Crossin’ story was almost completely incomprehensible. I found it really hard going in places. And the depiction of ‘Old Georgie’ was heavy-handed in the extreme.
I guess this kind of means that I give a thumbs up to the stories directed by Tom Twyker and a thumbs down to the ones directed by the Wachowskis. A couple of years ago this would have validated my smug belief that the Wachowskis are talentless hacks but they won me over with their passion for Mitchell’s book - there’s a YouTube video where they display an infectious enthusiasm for the novel. Therefore it brings me nothing but sadness to say that they failed the book - their segments are easily the weakest. I only wish now that Twyker would have got to make the whole thing.
Wednesday, 19 September 2012
You know when you’re studying for a medical degree and you go off for the weekend to get hammered with some friends at their pad in a private lake in Louisiana, and then you meet some inbred locals, who are, like, ‘Fuck you, kids, and fuck you doubly hard black man because we’re racist pricks’. And you’re like, ‘Woah, that’s some fucked up Deliverance shit right there. And what was with the dude watching a toilet camera on his CCTV?!?’
But then you all start playing beer pong because sport drinking lite beer is totally awesome and not fucking lame and your female friends start changing into bikinis but they only show side boob because this got a lame PG-13 rating because the studio is fucking stupid and greedy and nipples are evil and they don’t want to restrict the demographic.
And then you’ve forgotten that there are hillbillies out there with weird-ass scars and you’re water skiing and your one and only black friend gets his arm bitten off by a shark, and you’re, like, ‘Oh shit, this fucked up shit just got fucking real!’
And then you try and get medical help so that he can get his arm stitched back on and get an NFL contract but your boat gets eaten by sharks and they eat your black friend’s girlfriend and you’re like, ‘Sheeet, we can’t tell our one and only black friend that his girlfriend got wolfed down like some Capn’ Crunch by hungry sharks!’ And then your friend tries to be all clever and not tell him but he cries and your one and only black friend finds out and cries too and goes ‘Wahhh wahhh wahhh’ like some bawling-ass motherfucker.
But then after he goes ‘Boo-hoo-hoo, boo-hoo-hoo, boo-hoo-hoo’ for a little bit, he totally mans up like a badass and makes a spear and single handedly kills a hammerhead shark and is like, ‘Who’s da man you ugly-ass motherfucker!’ But then you’re like, ‘Sheet, the shark that munched your bitch wasn’t a hammerhead, dude!’ and he’s like ‘Fuck!’
And then the inbred hick locals come back and they’re, like, ‘Woah, that’s fucked up fuckers, we’re totally sorry about being racist dickheads and we’ll take a couple of your friends to the mainland so they can get help’, and you’re, like, ‘Great, maybe you’re not such crackers after all’. But then they start acting weird on the boat and before you know it they’re feeding your friends to sharks and the sharks are jumping up at trees and your friend is, like, ‘Sheeet, I didn’t see that on Shark Week’.
And then your other friend who spray tans his dick bronze like it’s a fucking Olympic medal, tries to jetski your black friend out of this fucking fucked up shit. But then the blood from the black man’s stump attracts more sharks and your black friend is like, ‘Dude, I’m done for, I’m gonna take this one for the team, save your pretty tanned ass’ and throws himself head first into the water so that he can be a Scooby snack for those motherfucking sharks and the friend with the tanned cock is like, ‘Nooooooo! I must turn back and save you! All this musn’t be in vain!’ and he turns back and sees the sharks and is like, ‘Oh fuck, must get out of here!’ and he turns around and speeds away really fast. And he’s quicker than those stupid-ass sharks and he’s going quicker and quicker and he’s gonna make it and he’s about to do headstands and make some crotch chops. But then a massive-ass shark jumps out of the water in front of him and eats his head off and he’s like, ‘Sheeet, I didn’t see that coming’.
And then after virtually all your friends are dead, the supposedly nice guy Sheriff also turns out to be a dickbag and tries to feed you to some sharks with cameras on them so that he can sell the footage on the internet so that fat losers with no friends can masturbate to your death while eating Spaghetti O’s. And you’re, like, ‘Fuck you fucker, no way I’m appearing as a footnote on 1000 Ways to Die’ and you kick him in the water and he gets eaten and you’re, like, ‘Yeah! Take that guy from Grounded For Life!’
And then you swim to a boat with your friend and you’re, like, ‘Great, we’re safe, we’ve escaped this shitty movie’ and then in the distance a Great White shark jumps at the screen in awesome 3-D and you’re, like, ‘Sheeet, I hope this crappy-ass film didn’t make enough money for a sequel, I just wanna go home and bone my friend while her dog watches’.
Monday, 3 September 2012
Sight and Sound 2012 Top 50 (#50 - joint)
It’s interesting to note that the films on the top and bottom of the Sight and Sound Top 50 for 2012 are directly related. You have Vertigo at the summit, and, propping everything else up, is La jetée, a movie that is inspired by and which directly references the Hitchcock movie.
It’s also worth noting that La jetée itself influenced a film - Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys, which lifts many concepts and ideas from Chris Marker’s movie and which steals its surprise ending.
Both Gilliam and Hitchcock, though, in my opinion produced films that are more satisfying than Marker’s. Marker’s film feels to me like a graphic novel brought to life. And while, through its use of photography, it manages to produce some interesting imagery, it doesn’t have the emotional resonance of the aforementioned movies.
I get why Marker decided to use photography. The film is about memory and lots of our memories are still images (at least, mine are). But I do feel that the photography has a distancing effect - when we’re watching a movie, we’re observers, but with photography we’re standing even further back.
The premise of the movie is that the world has been destroyed in World War III. Our protagonist is a prisoner in an underground bunker. Haunted by a childhood memory of a man dying at an airport, he’s picked for some time travel experiments. Sent back to the past, he meets a woman from his memories - a woman he saw at the airport that day when the man was killed. They slowly develop a romantic relationship.
The woman calls the man her ghost, as he appears infrequently in her life. The scenes between the two where they wander around a pre-war Paris are beautifully shot, edited and scored and have a gentle romanticism about them that is sorely lacking in similar drivel like The Time Traveller’s Wife.
Still, the decision to use just still photography (with the exception of a few seconds of moving images where the woman wakes) means that the relationship sorely lacks the passion and intensity on display in Vertigo. There’s nothing cheesy at all about the way that the film’s made but one still can’t help but think of those photo romances you would find in magazines.
The man’s real mission, though, is to go into the future and bring back resources that will help the people in the present. This is the film’s one misstep. The future people look like they belong in a world where Superman has been fused with Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. The people even have what looks like lightning bolts on their faces.
The ending, though, is fantastic. If you’ve seen Twelve Monkeys, you’ll already know it. Sensing that the people experimenting on him are going to execute him for successfully bringing energy back from the future, he enlists the help of the future people to send him back in time. He decides to go to pre-war Paris to see the woman.
He appears at the airport we see at the beginning of the film and he runs towards the woman. The images are edited in such a way that it really looks like the man is running. But then before he can get to the woman he’s shot by an agent of his prisoners. We then find out that the childhood memory that had haunted the man his whole life was his own death. It’s an amazing ending but sadly I also think that it’s the sole reason this film is so well remembered and highly regarded.
Without the amazing ending, La jetée would probably be a forgotten movie. There just isn’t enough to sustain it and a film has to be more than a great final minute. But such is the power of an amazing ending that it can even grant mediocre films immortality.
Friday, 27 July 2012
In my Melancholia review I stated that I have a pathological inability to give up on a film. However, I do have to admit that I gave up on a movie a few months ago. The film was The Girl Who Played With Fire. I don’t know why, but it almost put me in a coma and I had to stop halfway through. I never finished it.
Which is a shame because I really enjoyed The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. It certainly wasn’t a flawless film - the direction lacked imagination and it looked like it had been filmed for TV - but it was an enjoyable diversion. I guess I began to switch off once we got into the silliness of Lisbeth’s family tree.
As you’d expect, the Hollywood remake of Stieg Larsson’s novel is bigger, louder and glossier. But is it better? I would say in almost every regard, yes. The acting and the directing are far superior and Fincher’s version has far more tension.
A surprising element of watching the remake is realising how little of the original I remembered. I couldn’t even remember who the killer was, which is a pretty damning indictment of how little the original film stayed with me. Despite the heaviness of the violence, it turned out to be a pretty lightweight exercise.
So here comes Fincher to give the story the treatment it deserves. His film has far more weight and promises not to fade from the memory like a wisp.
The key scene for me is the torture of Blomkvist (Daniel Craig). I haven’t been that on edge for a while. Sure I knew he wasn’t going to die and yes I knew Lisbeth was going to turn up at the last second to save his life, but I still ended up getting an adrenaline rush. And unusually for me - I usually find it surprisingly easy to detach myself from moments of horror - I felt anxious when Blomkvist’s tormentor puts a plastic bag over his head. I’ve always found the very notion of suffocation horrific and Fincher prolongs the agony. And then with some POV shots, he allows you to step into Blomkvist’s shoes. It’s a wonderfully, horrifically powerful scene, which is made even more disturbing by the use of an Enya song. ‘Just kill me already! I can’t take any more of that pseudo-Celtic bollocks!’
Just as the scene is reaching breaking point, Lisbeth turns up and saves the day with a golf club. She smashes the man’s face and then chases him on her motorbike until he crashes his car and burns to death. Wait a minute, who’s James Bond here?
Of course Lisbeth is a pure male fantasy. A hot goth girl with a fantastic body and cool tattoos who’s as capable with a taser as she is with a laptop, who will hop on your penis for sweaty sex, save your life at the last moment, tenderly ask you permission to kill your tormentor, destroy your other enemy by embezzling billions of dollars by dressing up as an icy blonde and then spend some of the cash buying you an awesomely rad leather jacket. Oh, and she also likes girl on girl action. Who but a man could conceive of such a creation?
But even though she stretches every thread of credibility, Lisbeth is a fantastic heroine. Strong, resourceful and handy with a dildo, she’s kind of James Bond meets Batman meets Siouxsie Sioux meets Rain Man. Or put another way, she’s kind of a goth Sherlock Holmes. If Sherlock Holmes was a bisexual girl and wanted to relentlessly plug Apple products.
At the beginning of the film, we find out that Lisbeth has been declared mentally incompetent by the State and has been appointed a legal guardian. In a twist that would make Republican heads explode and have them bemoaning the evils of socialism, Lisbeth’s government appointed guardian turns out to be a colossal pervert. In return for favourable reports and continued wellfare checks, he expects sweaty blow-jobs and brutal assfuckings. Yeah, and you capitalists think that getting government assistance doesn’t have any strings attached!
For Lisbeth’s rapist, though, there’s a worthy punishment. Unbeknownst to him, Lisbeth videoed one of the rapes. And then just so he can know what it feels like, she tasers him, ties him up and rams a huge dildo up his hairy arse. She even kicks it a couple of times to make it penetrate him even deeper. What a girl! And then just as a little cherry on top of this sad, sweaty, bloody, quivering, sobbing man cake, Lisbeth tattoos his chest, telling everyone that he’s a rapist pig. Again this is borderline ridiculous but it works a treat.
What’s fairly surprising about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is that it takes a while for our lead characters to team up. At first Lisbeth is busy with her perverted Benny Andersson look-a-like guardian and Blomkvist is investigating a murder for a wealthy businessman. The unsolved murder of the businessman’s grandniece occurred decades ago, but it still consumes the old man.
Of course the nuts and bolts of the murder investigation are probably the least interesting aspect of the film. When Blomkvist and Lisbeth do finally team up there’s a lot of staring at strategically placed Apple products and lots of rooting through files and photos. It’s perfectly entertaining but it isn’t anything we haven’t seen a million times before.
Much more fun is the development of the relationship between Blomkvist and Lisbeth. At first it seems like it’s going to be a mentor/tutor kind of relationship. But then in one scene Lisbeth makes a move on Blomkvist and they become lovers. Again this twist flirts with the ridiculous but like so much of the film it works effortlessly. Maybe I’m more accepting of how out of the blue everything happens because they’re supposed to be Swedish? Is it wrong of me to think of them either as relentless bed-hoppers, suicide victims or maniac chefs? ‘I’m a hurreeble-a xenuphube-a. Cheeckee in a besket!’
I don’t even care that Daniel Craig doesn’t attempt a Swedish accent. Frankly, I’d rather someone not try than try an accent and fail miserably.
Given the familiar elements of the murder mystery, the key hook for me was whether Lisbeth and Blomkvist would end up together. They make a great team and Craig and Rooney Mara have excellent chemistry. And given the tenderness that is opened up in Lisbeth by her love for Blomkvist, I had a surprising emotional investment in the characters (maybe this is why the torture scene is so tense). So I couldn’t help but want to slap Craig’s character when he decides to go off with his previous lover and business partner (played by Robin Wright Penn). Seriously? Between a blonde who has wrinkles that makes it look like she has a vagina on her neck and a girl who killed the guy who was torturing you, who managed to embezzle billions of dollars without any effort and who has finally opened herself up and bought you a killer leather jacket, you chose the blonde with a vagina neck! Well done Blomkvist, well done!
‘Ve-a cume-a frum zee lund ooff zee ice-a und snoo,
Frum zee meednight soon vhere-a zee hut spreengs floo
Zee hemmer ooff zee guds veell dreefe-a oooor sheeps tu noo lunds,
Tu feeght zee hurde-a, seenging und cryeeng: Felhella, I em cumeeng!’