Thursday, 17 September 2015

Because of me and my mediation with my master, you - all of you - will be saved from the red death

The Masque of the Red Death (1964)

Dir - Roger Corman

Before we begin looking at this and looking at my ramblng notes, I think it is a good idea to definitely watch the film:
Which one can do so here (it got taken off Youtube it seems)

And also read the story. It is very short
You can do so here.

We all storied up? Excellent, lets go.

The story follows Francesca (played by cake-queen Jane Asher) who is kidnapped and forced to witness her lover and her father get physically and emotionally tortured in a series of sick games by the Lord Prospero. Prospero meanwhile is saving his subjects from a terrible plague with help from the devil.

Francesca sort of has a character path - but it is very brief. She goes from being the victim of Prospero's vanity and a cowering prisoner

To begrudgingly accepting what is going on, getting dressed all fancy and being cordial to Prospero's guests.

I'm not expecting a film full of screaming Asher - but it would be nice if she was really a character who's actions and motivations matched the situation she's in... she sort of accepts the situation very quickly - even Belle kicked up a fuss when she was captured by the Beast. She isn't really a real person - she is a receiver of Prospero's monologues and that's fine. Because, lets be honest, none of us are going to be Francesca... nobody gives a shit about anyone in this film who isn't Vincent Price.

Prospero kicks up all the main themes of the film - the stuff that I think we need to be looking at. He is an interesting force and the way he behaves (both with his guests and to Francesca) explain a lot about the themes of the film.
The story really only seems to be about the inevitability of death - man locks himself away from the death outside - man throws a party - death comes in the end. So everything else - including the complete characterisation of Prospero comes from the mind of awesome shit-film maker Roger Corman (check out that filmography).

The film really highlights the following key areas - either through Prospero, or through some of his guests - and I think these are the areas that we need to focus on when recreating the Masque

  • Dishonesty, naivety and the constant power struggle
  • My blind obedience is more valid than your blind obedience
  • Corruption of innocence

So lets break it down with some exciting sub-headings.

Dishonesty, naivety and the constant power struggle

Firstly, apologies if this is not how you spell naivety - it looks wrong to me. I'd spell it with an acute accent on an e... but I can't remember how to insert that symbol and my (usually wrong) spellchecker is going with Y.

Prospero's main weakness in this film is believing that he has way more power than he actually does. We know that Prospero is powerful - he is a Prince after all - and from the start we see that he maybe doesn't use his power for good. His attempt at being 'nice' to the poor people in his domain (offering the scraps from the massive party he's throwing) is refused, and as he is offended by this refusal he burns down the village and sentences two of the villagers to death.

Weirdly, I don't think Prospero sees himself as an EVIL man... and for Vincent Price, this is quite a calm performance with very few maniacal cackles. I think he just believes that everyone has to know their place. His place is the tippy top - and these villages need to know that.... if a few peasants have to die for that message to be learnt than so be it.
In fact he invites them to the safety of his castle and only burns the village down when he hears that the Red Death has come. He doesn't want his principality to get all diseased - so he destroys the source.

Prospero's problem is that nobody has ever challenged him - he can kill peasants and burn down villages and nobody cares and whilst his court is full of dishonesty and back stabbing, he still has complete control.
This scene is really sinister if you ask me - both the blind obedience (which we'll come back to) of the court but also the weird sycophantic maniacal laughing.

This would be a brilliant walkabout piece - have somone issuing demands - have a couple of 'plants' who get the ball rolling so that normal people don't feel too shy and then rope the punters into being frogs or donkeys or snakes or goats

I find it all really quite sinister and horrible - but it shows the heirachy - everyone within the court is eager to suck up to their master. They'll debase themselves in front of others if it makes their prince happy - if it puts them in a better position, and fuck anyone who gets in the way. The only exceptions here are the 'low classes' - the peasants are constantly rebelling and getting killed for it and Hoptoad the jester (whilst certainly making tricks and using the power struggle for his own advantage) is protecting his wife.

Even Prospero is trying to play games to make himself look better in the eyes of his lord Satan.

My blind obedience is more valid than your blind obedience

This is an interesting one - Prospero firmly believes that Satan is the lord of the universe (in fact when he meets the Red Death and learns this isn't the case you can hear the fear and confusion in Price's voice). His blind faith that Satan can save him from the Red Death is the force that powers this film and that powers Prospero's every decision. He brings his subjects to his castle so that he can bring their souls to Satan.

And yet - he looks down on blind obedience. He talks about the foolishness of Christianity and believing in a dead god, using clumsy falcon analogu. He looks down on the obedience of his subjects but punishes them harshly if they don't.
Do you know how a falcon is trained, my dear? Her eyes are sewn shut. Blinded temporarily, she suffers the whims of her God patiently, until her will is submerged and she learns to serve - as your God taught and blinded you with crosses.
This point links back to Prospero's naivety - he believes he is in the right and that he is safe from the inevitability of death... he isn't

However - there is a brilliant bit in the film where obedience is tested, with two prisoners essentially playing Russian Roulette with daggers. We should definitely have some kind of (non-lethal) Russian Roulette going on - maybe a walkabout food based thing (chocolates with one super chilli one?)

We should also have a Satanic ritual at some point like the one Juliana goes through to become Satan's wife - I love a good Satan dream as much as the next man (who wrote a good little study on the dream)

Corruption of innocence

So, I'm aware that there is the potential for this experience to be dark - too dark. Lots of Machiavellian back stabbing and betrayal as well as talk of Devil Worship- but that is largely Prospero.
Most of the party are really there to have fun. They want experiences - they want to see people die for their enjoyment. They want to corrupt the innocence of others.

This is particularly shown in the story of Alfredo's passion for Esmerelda - the tiny dancer who is the fairly disconcerting juxtaposition of an 8 year old girl over dubbed with an adult's voice. Watching her talk is weird. Probably the creepiest bit of the film.

Alfredo is always after the thrills - and whether that is corrupting a woman who looks like a child, or whether it is watching people tortured for his entertainment - he doesn't care how his thrill seeking affect others. Unfortunately he should... because he ends up tricked into a monkey suit and set on fire - because he is a horrible horrible man - I'm not saying we should set anyone on fire... but Alfredo and Hoptoad as ape and trainer would be a fun bit of walkabout to do

This is what we should be emulating for most of it - pure decadence at it's most dangerous level. Blissful ignorance until it all fucks up...

Which brings us to...

The actual Red Death

Here we go - all the themes mentioned above.... the power struggles, the worship of gods and devils, the thrill seeking... all of it means nothing.

Death comes to us all in the end.

A lovely joyous message for us to throw a party around - but there are some really wonderful striking visual elements.

In the video above we get two great elements - The Dance of Death (from 2:24) and the clawing grasping hands of death as the throng fall in on Prospero (from 6:06) - a visually striking scene that means I now finally understand the end of Phantom of the Paradise.

So.... we can do what we want - be cruel and selfish and hurt others to protect ourselves in our lie of a happy ball - but it doesn't matter, because in the end....

ps - who are all the other deaths?

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Dr. Green, how can you diagnose someone as an obsessive compulsive disorder, and then act like I have some choice about barging in here?

No 140 - As Good as it Gets
Director - James L Brooks

Jack Nicholson is a crazy old man isn't he. He's always been a crazy old man.

He is also fascinating to watch. Something about his face. His eyebrows and his teeny tiny eyes and his ENORMOUS creepy grin.
His, is a face you can look at forever because he manages act with parts of your head which shouldn't be acting:

In this film, Nicholson plays a grumpy old curmudgeon and the film is set in a weird tone, begin with some brilliant dog-based toilet humour, but also factoring in some uncomfortable (hilariously uncomfortable at times) homophobia and racism towards his neighbours.

Of course, this is Hollywood and grumpy old curmudgeons can't stay grumpy forever. So, after a surprisingly brutal scene, Nicholson is left looking after the stupidest dog in the world!

Now - it turns out the dog is a Brussels Griffon.... but look at its doggy face. It is the stupidest dog in the world....

That is a stupid face.

And so, looking at my notes, I seem to have become fixated with the dog. I even drew sketches of the dog.
I think the reason was that I didn't want to focus on the main story.

The main story sees Nicholson soften into a nicer more likeable guy as he goes on a roadtrip with Helen Hunt's waitress (what he fancies) and his gay neighbour (or Gaybour) played by Greg Kinnear.
In this, the typical happens.
Now call me naive, but I sort of hoped that Nicholson's character would see the good that he was doing. Would see the relationships he was helping to form and this would soften his character. He'd leave with two new friends and a changed outlook on the world.

But no... THERE HAS TO BE A FUCKING LOVE ANGLE DESPITE THE FACT THAT NICHOLSON IS 26 YEARS OLDER THAN HUNT.... this is never mentioned. He is old enough to be her dad and he is horrible.... and yet Hunt fancies him right up.
At one point, Nicholson's character meets Hunt's mother.... I thought that would lead to romance.... an interesting (and fitting) relationship.

There are also interesting moments which are downplayed - Greg Kinnear's artist finds his muse in Helen Hunt's character. This gives us one scene of cheeky nudity and hunt-boob, but very little in the way of story or character notes.

you see....

its all bumped out of the way for this

And this cheapens the whole film for me. I like the idea of Nicholson curing (or at least controlling) his OCDs - I like the idea of him becoming a nicer person.

But I'd much rather it was friendship which changed him. Or even a silly little dog.

Because those changes become much less poignant when the motivation is clear:

Jack just wants to stick his Nicholson in to Helen's Hunt.

I've done a lot of bad things, Joey. Maybe it's comin' back to me. Who knows? I'm a jinx maybe. Who the hell knows?

No 11 - Raging Bull
Director - Martin Scorsese

Oh Blog.... I've neglected you. I'm like an absent husband taking advantage of you as you wait for me, scared of what I might do next....

Which dovetails nicely to RAGING BULL - the story of a horrible shit of man who is in no way likeable throughout the film.

Seriously - Jake La Motta is a horrible bastard of a man. Now... I'm not necessarily talking about HIM personally (never insult a boxer) - but certainly his character in this film. Bastard.

I don't want to dwell on this too much as it would just be a list of character flaws and violent outbreaks - also, I saw this film ages ago and lost all my notes - but this is a man who mixes dangerous levels of paranoia and arrogance. He is quick to temper, and quick to get violent. He leaves his wife for a girl of 15 and continues to abuse and bash her around anyway.

He is a nasty piece of work. But the film never shies away from it. It gets right in there. Sticks close to the screaming and the flying crockery. Clinging to the fiery Mediterranean outbursts of rage. It is close up, hyper real and ugly.
The perfect counterpoint the boxing scenes.

Scorsese films the boxing scenes in a similar way to the scenes of domesticity - the camera is up close, in the face of the violent. But the image seems softer, the movements more dreamy. Often the scene's sound is faded out and replaced with music.
As soon as La Motta steps into the ring, the film takes a fantasy twist. It becomes beautiful to watch.

Just look a the silent moments of confrontation in this video between Sugar Ray and Jake La Motta. The cinematography is brilliant.... from the stark use of Red in the opening credits

to the final sequence in which a fatter, older La Motta memorises a speech - talking to his reflection in an awkward monotone delivery: It all looks amazing.

Which brings us to the other of the film's key strengths.... De Niro.
De Niro's transformation throughout this film is phenomenal. It is a tour de force, not only in acting as he creates a rounded, deep, flawed and layered character from someone who could easily be a 1 dimensional fucker, but also in the physical dedication. As the film progresses, we see La Motta gain weight, as he loses the will to fight and just gets lazy with his riches. It is impressive because it happens over the course of the film, but it is more impressive because it sneaks up on you.... you don't notice it at first, until he's parading around topless on the beach. It makes it much more striking than the films which just cut to a point where the protagonist is super skinny or fatter.

The slow creep of fat is similar to the majority of the film. The film's knockout punches are the fights. Amazing shots which have become iconic and which are frequently paid homage to in films where punches are thrown.
The rest of the film is more of a creeper. Growing on you, slowly, and horribly.... getting under your skin as you watch the rise and fall of a cruel cruel man...

Thursday, 6 October 2011

My name's Forrest Gump. People call me Forrest Gump.

No 240 - Forrest Gump
Director - Robert Zemeckis

This was the film that won 'Best Film' in 1994, beating both Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption, two films which can be described as gritty fantasy (whether the fantasy comes from Tarantino's sense of myth or from the uplifting suspension of disbelief which is there in King's story)
So does it deserve it?

Short answer is no....
But that isn't to say that Forrest Gump is a bad film - in fact I've been looking forward to having the excuse to rewatch it, because I have fond memories of the film - and it is very clever, and really quite enjoyable. It is also drowning in saccharine, self importance and sentimentalism.

But what works?

This is a complex story - it is the story of America during a messed up time, where they were dealing with paranoia, racism, wars and protests. The aspirations of the country are muddled and the way the country goes about it is messy. Yet we are anchored with Gump. Forrest is a simple man - both in mental capacity and in needs. He doesn't seem to want anything (except maybe for Jenny to be happy) and he just bumbles through life and yet through him we experience so much.
It seems that Gump (or at the very least Gump's family) are directly involved in important moments of history. There are the small moments (his influences on popular culture - from Elvis through to 'Shit Happens' via 'Imagine' are all sublime) and then there are the big moments.
The CGI is becoming a bit more noticeable now, as they manipulate the mouths of old stock footage, but still.... kudos to Zemeckis for USING old stock footage and then tweaking and cheating with CGI. Scenes like this still amuse and still look pretty impressive (even if the voices aren't always 100%)

This tweaking with CGI and with American history also helps create my next point:

The film may really stay in 3 areas (Alabama, Washington and 'Nam) - but the sense of scale is massive. From the explosions and helicopters whooshing past in Vietnam through to the massive rally you see in the picture above and the hurricane which affects Gump's shrimping business - This is a large story, and whilst it is told on a small, one person scale - the film remembers that the large scale shenanigans need to be shown, even if in the background.

I wish to end on a point of characters. I, personally, find Forrest really grating. His slow southern drawl (mixed with the fact that he is slightly retarded) just makes everything he says ponderous and dull... but because he is surrounded by so many interesting moments, you forget. The real star of the show is:

Dan Taylor has the greatest character arc. A brilliant character arc... The Vietnam officer who is stripped of everything and has to learn again what life is about. We see him at his very lowest, we see him happy (for several different reasons). He's important, because with the exception of maybe death, I don't think Gump ever truly realises that bad things happen to people.... Lt Dan is there to be the man that had to rebuild his life, and climb out of his own self destructive descent.

And on the topic of Self Destructive Descent

Now.... I understand the point of Jenny, she is an interesting and pivotal plot point. She provides the motivation for a lot of Gump's actions, and her character (particularly her sexual awareness and drug use) is a great dichotomy to Gump's utter naivety throughout.
The thing is.... I only cared about Jenny when she was a little girl and at the hands of her abusive father. The character is one who is drawn to the safety of Gump and his incredibly loving and busy household....
But as soon as she becomes Robin Wright I just lost interest... I never felt anything for Jenny. She was moving from one terrible decision to another (the direct opposite of Gump's life) but I never felt for her the way that Zemeckis wanted me to.

And that... brings me to the real issue of the film.

For all the interesting moments, for all the nice nuances which have been brought to the story - the film is too eager to thrust mawkish sentimentality and over-sincere characters at you. And the freaky robot child that is Haley Joel Osmond.

I could do with fewer tearful speeches around gravestones, and more of the story of America...

And that's all I really have to say about that.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Today I saw a slave become more powerful than the Emperor of Rome.

No 151 - Gladiator
Director - Ridley Scott


Only joking.... I'm talking about different gladiators. The Roman ones.

Rome was a long time ago - this must be the case because Gladiator begins with all the studio logos appearing in sepia tones. So we're talking OLD.

The Roman empire was a tough time, and being Caesar was particularly tough. You had to make sure everything was correct. You had to stop the marauding hordes. And frequently actors would thesbianically lament that the Gods were angry. Caesar 3 was a tough game - but here old man Richard Harris seems to nail the whole God Emperor thing. He is popular. He is powerful. He is doomed.

This is the story of one of Caesar's friends and officers and how he is plunged into big old shit - losing his power, his status, his family and his freedom. The thing that I forgot though was just how bloody dark and bleak and gloomy it is.
11 years had passed since I last saw it, and over time nostalgia had tinged the film as being more fun. The blood and sand and fightings had taken over and meant that I remembered the film to be a bit more of a romp.

It is not a romp at all.

It is in fact

And the horrors of the age (particularly the death of Maximus' family - which leads him to his Gladiator role) - jar with the more cinematic deaths of the battleground.

The battles in the arena are not glorified. This isn't 300 - this is proper 'this shit is real' fighting - with dirty brown sand stained with blood. The audience's celebrations, aren't echoes in the cinematography. The film doesn't want you to relish in the battle. Just witness the plight.
- I say that.... but actually, the more famous Maximus becomes, the more the film seems to forget that. I mean - the tigers don't do much do they? They just look cool?

The fights are impressive - they're violent but not KERRAZY VIOLENT. And they all help to lead Maximus to meet Joaquin Phoenix's ridiculous Emperor Commodus. A man who is trying so hard to do every bad thing. He's like the pantomime villains off The Crow - and he ticks all the boxes of being a bit of a bugger. Specially to his family - what with all that incest and patricide going on.... Phoenix plays him beautifully. In fact, its Commodus' snivelly pathetic neediness that makes him more horrible. It is his motivation which is the real shocker. Not the actual acts....

After all Rome was a tough old place, and that kinda shit happened.

The film's ending suffers from being a little too Po-faced - but there are some beautiful shots (I particularly like Maximus gliding over the desert) - and it leads the story to the only logical resolution....

I just wish they'd had the balls to do Nick Cave's sequel for it. Because it is so bat-shit bonkers, it could have been amazing.

Forget my blog - just read this if you've never read it before. Naturally there will be stuff in it that spoils the first film, if you've not seen it.

All in all - Gladiator is a great film, full of marvellous actors (famous, of course, as the bloody legend Oliver Reed's last film) and visually incredible.
I think it just takes itself too seriously at times.

So.... in conclusion.

My favourite Gladiator was Jet

Thursday, 15 September 2011

The time has come for someone to put his foot down. And that foot is me.

No 279 - National Lampoon's Animal House
Director - John Landis

I don't understand a lot of American culture. Especially university culture. Like I don't understand Frat houses or what they really are. I could do some basic research. Read this Wikipedia entry that took me literally seconds to find. But I won't. I refuse to. It will all remain a mystery of people being weird and getting spanked.
A strange homoerotic one-upmanship that just creeps up in films every now and then. But which I just don't get. I especially don't understand why their so important.

Anyway, they are important and Delta house is painted as the fuck-up house. And yet, when we're introduced to the houses at the start of the film, Delta house looks like the place that is actually fun. A party. Rather than an awkward parade of self-importance.

Anyway.... Animal house has been the stepping stone for almost every College gross-out comedy since. It has been parodied by everything. It was essentially an entire episode of The Simpsons

cough cough look over here

There is swearing, there is sex, there is a LOT of female nudity.

And there are some true comic gems. There is some visual humour which is inspired. John Belushi shuffling about on a ladder..... one of the funniest things I've ever seen.

Even the 'zit' moment is still funny. And that is a clip on Scene it and I've 'seen it' about a gajillion times.

Lets move on and just discuss the big bag of awesome. The true legend of the film. D-Day....

And I just learnt something amazing about D-Day.

For a good half of the film, I thought D-Day was ACTUALLY a lecturer at the uni who then became a bit of a badass and hung out in the Frat house. I'd even created a back story for him.
Anyway then I assumed that Sutherland had enjoyed the script so much that he wanted to play two roles. Like Jack Nicholson in Mars Attacks!

But NO!!!! Donald Sutherland is only playing the lecturer. The legend that is D-Day is played by Bruce McGill... Who has appeared in lots of stuff but nothing that stood out.
So my entire speech about the awesomeness of Donald Sutherland has been wasted.

BUT.... D-Day is still amazing, from his entry as he rides a motorbike up some stairs to his finale in the car of destruction he pimps out...

He is great.

Its a weird film in that it inspired an entire genre really. And whilst nothing in it feels particularly NEW anymore (a side effect of its material being borrowed by so many sources) - it does feel like a quality piece of comedy.

There is a really high gag rate.

There were some genuine LOLZ

what more do you need?

Monday, 5 September 2011

So long as the Arabs fight tribe against tribe, so long will they be a little people, a silly people - greedy, barbarous, and cruel, as you are.

No 57 - Lawrence of Arabia
Director - David Lean

I cleared my diary and set myself an evening to sit down with a true gargantuan epic. From the little disclaimer before the film telling me there'd be moments of score with no visual accompaniment, I knew I was going to enjoy the film. This is a director with a vision. A proper true vision.
And he has a freaking awesome score.
"Listen" He seems to say "This score is so fucking amazeballs, that I want you to really get your chops around it before I sully it with beautiful beautiful imagery. Lets just appreciate it first you cinematic heathens."

I am not one to go against Mr Lean. So - before you read this meandering blog post, make sure you listen to the score and get all goosepimply and that.


I have recently read the fabulous book Hellraisers by Robert Sellers and had learnt magnificent stories of amazing drunkardness. All it did was cement Peter O'Toole as a complete legend. I've always thought he was aces. But I've also always thought he was old. Which is a completely idiotic thought to have.... but O'Toole just seems old. He seems a randy old bugger. Like in that weirdly depressing and utterly disturbing film Venus.... So to see him so young and striking kind of threw me off course.

Young O'Toole isn't really a handsome man, but he does have striking eyes, a beautifully soft spoken voice and a caddish charm - all of which is carried across to Lawrence making him somebody which you immediately route for in the stuffiness and stiff upper lip of the British armed forces.

Throughout the film, Lawrence's intentions are never clearly explained.... especially at the beginning it is difficult to see what is motivating him - however, here is the benefit of such a slow and ponderous film playing over 4 hours. As we are surrounded by lavish and insanely beautiful pictures of the desert, we begin to understand Lawrence's feelings. When he finally declares his love for the country, it comes as no surprise. This is man who has taken the harsh and inhospitable world to heart. Who treats the people as equals and who wishes to be treated as an equal by the people. A massive difference from the cries of "Wog" which eminate from the other bigoted soldiers and officers.
Whilst I'm on the topic of casual racism... let me just mention the one aspect which sullied what is an otherwise beautiful and engrossing film:
Alec Guinness shouldn't be all blacked up in order to play an Arab.

I am aware it was common in those days, and there is no denying that Guinness plays the part with passion and creates a rich and detailed character. However, it always snaps me out of the film: whether it is Olivier in Othello or Jean Simmons in Black Narcissus - it just feels a bit icky. Nowadays we can only have it done for jokes. And it only really works if it addresses the joke directly... Kirk Lazarus' dedication to method acting is a great 'blacking up' joke as well as mostly being a massive pisstake of 'The Method' and role immersion.... Eddie Murphy's Mr Wong in Norbit is as horrible and icky as Mickey Rooney's Mr Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany's, 40 years earlier.

Right - I got sidetracked there with a little link-heavy rant about racism. The important thing is that this is just a small glitch in a beautiful, rich and truly epic story about (ironically) race relations.

The film isn't afraid to tackle dark topics and manages to paint the Arab nation as a bunch of squabbling violent tribes in a way that doesn't belittle them. The film is about accepting that there are different cultures, and whilst some of these cultures may need an outsider to see them and amend them in order to move things on - we shouldn't just stick OUR cultures on top. That remains as true now, as it did then.

It is a bit too long (I was flagging by the end) but you stay interested and rooting for Lawrence. He is a good man. He is brilliantly played by O'Toole.

A great film.