Saturday, 31 January 2009

If you didn't see him... he's there.

No 429 - Danger Diabolik
Director - Mario Bava

At last! A completely stupid film I can have a bit of fun with! I have wanted to watch this film since I first saw a still of it in Empire magazine many a year ago. It looked utterly ridiculous. And from the moment I started the disc and was met by a DVD menu of go go dancers and swinging 60s Jazz I knew I was going to love it!

The film is completely absurd. It is the work of producer Dino De Laurentiis who also gave the world Barbarella (seriously.... how is this film in the Empire top 500 and not Barbarella! What a criminal injustice! I mean.... just look at Jane Fonda!) - The film has a lot of similarities with Barbarella, the main one being John Phillip Law who plays the masterful thief Diabolik, but who also played blind angel Pygar.

This film follows a Kool Kat swinging super thief called Diabolik as he goes about his many adventures and the police set up ever more ridiculous traps to try (and fail) on catching him. Diabolik is wickedly cool, and I think this comes from his utter refusal to be inconspicuous in any way. At all.
How is it believable that the police have failed to catch this guy? Let us look at the facts:

1 - He wears a black PVC cat suit at all times. This would be fine, possibly even sensible (although sweaty) if he worked under cover of darkness... but he doesn't. He plans all his robberies in the middle of the days driving around in his identical black or white Jaguars. In fact the only time he does change out of his black catsuit is during his one night time mission. That is where Diabolik's true genius shines out. Faced with the challenge of climbing up a vertical beige wall, he removes his black PVC catsuit to reveal..... A BEIGE CATSUIT. That man must be boiling. All the time.

2 - His lair is a ridiculous Thunderbirds-esques world, complete with giant trap doors that open up to the outside world. Unless he is managing to grow turf on these giant platforms that rise out of the ground, shouldn't the police just look for the enormous square of AstroTurf which is bang in the middle of desert. Easy to find.

3 - He has the same escape plan. After every heist he pretends to be dead and the police leave him alone... Surely they would have learnt by now.

However, the police are terrible bumbling idiots. Inspector Ginko seems happy to waste hundreds of millions of dollars on over elaborate schemes to catch Diabolik and the chief of police is a fantastically over the top gurning Terry Thomas. Terry Thomas's scenes just explain everything I love about him. Despite playing the chief of police (and later the minister of finance) he doesn't let this alter his presentation. Turning up in immaculate evening wear for his press conferences, complete with dress shirt and monocle.
His bumbling police men and their over ambitious schemes should be foiled by Diabolik, but that doesn't make him a nice person. Not in any way shape or form.

I'd go as far as saying he is a horrible piece of work.

As I have already mentioned, Diabolik lives in a stereotype underground lair and appears to be very, very, rich. he also uses his money "In ways we couldn't imagine" (to quote Inspector Ginko).
These ways seem to mostly be covering his bed in $100 bills and having sex (I can't get you a full size picture... Google has failed me). Which seems like a totally excellent way to spend the $10,000,000 he steals at the film's start.

Over the course of the film he commits the following nefarious deeds:
  • Steals $10,000,000 being delivered to various banks around the city
  • Steals a priceless emerald necklace from an elderly couple
  • Blows up several government buildings containing all the tax records of everyone in the city
  • Steals a trainload of Gold which is being used to pay for the City commodities as no one is paying tax anymore.

Let us then add the fact that

a) He is clearly INCREDIBLY rich and just stealing things for fun and for a magpie-esque love of shiny things (and his girlfriend who occasionally asks for things)
b) Each mission will result in some deaths. Cars explode, helicopters crash, 9 of the elderly couple's guards are killed. Not to mention the hundreds (maybe even thousands) of office workers who worked in the 3 institutes destroyed by Diabolik.

Are we meant to root and cheer for this man? A cold hearted, vain and downright evil terrorist? If it wasn't for the fact that he has the best collection of ridiculous catsuits I'd probably hate him. As it is he is my second favourite super-rich evil bastard (after Swan of course - Follow this link if you don't know what I mean, and BUY IT. You won't be disappointed!)

My final comment is about the bizarre sense of dubbing in this film. I don't know if it is because of a sound transfer issue, if it is because the film is from the 60s or if it is because most of the cast seem to be Italian... however the whole film appears to be very badly dubbed. Which adds to the nonsensical whimsy of the piece!

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Death is... whimsical... today.

No 227 - Leon

Director - Luc Besson

I have been rubbish. I humbly apologise. It has been over a week since I last posted on here and my excuses are feeble. I could maybe blame the TV series I've been watching (30 Rock and Weeds are the main offenders) or the fact that I've been watching films which aren't on the list (Hook and Son of Rambow.... Naughty me). But all this will change now I promise you. Please don't give up on me yet. I have bought some new films and have a fresh vigour for the film blogging world.

So let us look at today's choice... Leon is an odd little contradiction of a film. On one hand it really is quite dark and gritty, and yet on the other hand it is a bonkers riot of OTT excess. But it is very very good. So... before I begin talking about the bonkers aspects to this film let us look at the gritty realism.

Whilst the violence is a key sign of the gritty realism (hell, a 4 year old child is shot dead in the first 30 minutes!) the big thing that you have to talk about when discussing Leon is the 'love' story. It is the kind of thing that makes me think there would have been a lot of controversy when the film was released (sadly, being 9 at the time, I wasn't all that film savvy). Certainly if the film was made nowadays, with our heightened fear of paedophilia, their would have been a media frenzy. Actually.... saying that, I wish to contradict myself. The recent film Birth also shared a similar 'Love Story' between an adult and a child (and actually has far more 'graphic' scenes than Leon) without too much negative press. However, Birth was quite a quiet indie film and Nicole Kidman just looks nicer and more innocent than Jean Reno.

So, after that truly pitiful introduction where I managed to contradict myself on the first line, let us look at Leon and Mathilda's relationship. In many ways their roles in the relationship are in permanent flux, the character's strengths making up for the other's weaknesses. Let us begin by talking about Leon. He is very much the adult, in many ways almost the complete opposite of a child - he is cold, detached, and lives solely for his role in life - An Assassin. However his character also has a massive childish streak. He is very naive, very innocent about day to day occurrences. He also can't read, so Mathilda ends up teaching Leon simple life skills as he teaches her the methods of murder.
You see, whilst Mathilda is TECHNICALLY a 12 year old girl, in many ways she is more adult than Leon. She too is cold, but her coldness is full of hatred and bitterness, rather than a dutiful lack of emotion. One of her first lines in the film is so sad that you begin to see what she might find appealing in the man who is payed to kill:
Is life always this hard, or is it just when you're a kid?

Her desperation to learn how to be a 'cleaner' and her ability to manipulate mark her out as a fantastic femme fatale. Just a child version of a femme fatale. One that could kill Tallulah with one hand. It is only her emotions, her impatience and her stubborn streak that truly point her our as being a child. In many ways she has lost all the innocence and playfulness of youth:
I am already grown up, I just get older.

So... let us move on from the downbeat and cast our eyes over Gary Oldman. This is the film that introduced me to the excellence of Mr Oldman, and it is this film which houses everything I love about his acting. Detective Stansfield is actually insane. Psychotically insane. As he dances through a house shooting civilians with a shot gun, sweat pouring off his drug addled face, he is the least subtle corrupt cop I have ever seen.
When he is asked about what happened during the civilian massacre, he flies off the handle and hurls abuse at the investigating policemen and storms off. It is hardly what anyone would call subtle, and yet, he isn't questioned about this. He isn't asked to visit his superior and he has the power to someone allegedly the ENTIRE NYPD to bring down Leon.

However, Gary Oldman's overtly theatrical hammy turn as a villain is just what this film needs to stop it being too serious and depressing, and summoning the EVERYBODY is a masterful stroke as it allows us to see Leon in his full power. Leon's bad-ass assassiny skills are shown in the first scene but since then we have seen him as a slow, stumbling, simple man who frequently fails to understand human interaction. By now the viewer has bonded with Leon, and seeing him in his element is a real exhilaration. It also shows how excellent a director Luc Besson can be, because Leon's character arc is beautifully and tastefully shot with some amazing cinematography. The scenes in the tunnel are especially amazing (don't click the link HERE if you don't want to know how it ends....)

It is a truly great film and shows that having a ridiculous character can sometimes benefit a film (then again, Luc Besson tried it again with Chris Rock in 5th Element and that is just too ridiculous). Surely it is time to see a grown up Mathilda acting as a hitman. That would be awesome.

PS.... Don't you think Paddy Considine looks like Gary Oldman.... No? Is that only me?

Sunday, 18 January 2009

I have all the characteristics of a human being: blood, flesh, skin, hair; but not a single, clear, identifiable emotion, except for greed & disgust

No 435 - American Psycho
Director - Mary Harron

I don't know if it is a worrying sign of my mental condition, but I woke up this fine Sunday morning with a surreal craving to watch American Psycho... so armed with my pint of tea and some toast and nursing a Shunt inspired hangover I sat don for for some gloriously ridiculous homicide.

The comedy that stems from this film is mostly from the shallow and obscene life lead by the central characters. None of them are likable, they are all just a bunch of self obsessed, over paid yuppies from the 80s. The shallow existence motivates Patrick Bateman so that his murders are never for any really valid reason, in fact, the main murder which then spawns Patrick's decline to insanity is down to someone having a better business card than him.
This is but one of the facets of the film which give the killing scenes an unrealistic sheen as the film progresses and the murders become more fantastical, the scenes develop more of a deliberately cliched feel. In the finale he blows up 2 police cars with only a pistol - this is the kind of thing that is possible in dumb action films, not in the normal life of an 80s business man on Wall Street. Another point he is chasing prostitutes through a house naked, brandishing a chainsaw and covered in blood - it is all so ridiculous and feels like it should be in a different film,. The viewer feels detached from the kills and they end up being amusing interludes in Patrick's mundane life. This is all deliberate and the reasons for it become clearer as the film progresses.

It is only in these moments of murder and insanity that Patrick Bateman feels comfortable. Christian Bale's performance is superb (as usual) showing a character who is clearly very detached and uncomfortable with his surroundings, he also crackles with smug arrogance and has an underlying vein of aggression which could break out at any point. However, for me the real interesting element is Patrick Bateman's voice. This is the first film I've seen in a while where Christian Bale isn't playing the gravelly voiced action man, Batman and the upcoming Terminator film will probably cement Bale into that kind of role (though I don't see him as the kind of actor who will get typecast). In this film Bateman's voice is constantly upbeat and has a soft occasionally even camp tinge to it. However, everything he says sounds fake, insincere, scripted. Bateman gives fantastic monologues, especially on the music scene, however they all sound fake, as if he is reading them from a music magazine rather then forming his own opinions. It is only really the amazing confession he makes to his lawyer over the phone that you begin to see the real Patrick Bateman, falling at the seams and an insane wreck of a being.

Harold, it's Bateman, Patrick Bateman. You're my lawyer so I think you should know: I've killed a lot of people. Some girls in the apartment uptown uh, some homeless people maybe 5 or 10 um an NYU girl I met in Central Park. I left her in a parking lot behind some donut shop. I killed Bethany, my old girlfriend, with a nail gun, and some man uh some old faggot with a dog last week. I killed another girl with a chainsaw, I had to, she almost got away and uh someone else there I can't remember maybe a model, but she's dead too. And Paul Allen. I killed Paul Allen with an axe in the face, his body is dissolving in a bathtub in Hell's Kitchen. I don't want to leave anything out here. I guess I've killed maybe 20 people, maybe 40. I have tapes of a lot of it, uh some of the girls have seen the tapes. I even, um... I ate some of their brains, and I tried to cook a little. Tonight I, uh, I just had to kill a LOT of people. And I'm not sure I'm gonna get away with it this time. I guess I'll uh, I mean, ah, I guess I'm a pretty uh, I mean I guess I'm a pretty sick guy. So, if you get back tomorrow, I may show up at Harry's Bar, so you know, keep your eyes open.

In fact, most of the moments where Bateman is about to get his kicks (either through murder or prostitutes or both) begin with fantastic musical interludes. That is the main benefit of setting a film in the 80s. Sure you can explore the fantastic nature of Yuppies spending too much money at restaurants serving Haute Cuisine and sharing cubicles to take coke. However a film like that is much better if you've got Huey Lewis and the News in the soundtrack. In fact... most films would probably benefit from having Huey Lewis in their soundtracks. Just look at Back to the Future. In fact even recently Seth Rogan asked Huey Lewis to write the title track for Pineapple Express in his trademark style. Also, because of Bateman's love of music you get to see a lot of footage of him with a really old school walkman. Which is nostalgically fun.

I want to go back to something I said earlier before getting sidetracked by the music: Patrick Bateman's bizarre tone of voice. It seems to be linked with just the way he lives his life. Everything he does is calculated to make him look his best. I know that the Yuppie generation were all about showing off and one-up-manship but there is real dismay in Patrick's face when he sees someone with a better house, or suit or even business card. He fills his world with status symbols to show off how successful he is. This maybe because of the feeling he has to be better than everyone, but it may also be because he truly believes he has no self - and that external materialism helps him have an identity....
But then again, his friends are just as materialistic and shallow so we can't really judge him on that.

I have already said that none of the characters are that likable, however that sentence is really targeted towards the core group of males. The female characters fare somewhat better, especially the ones which don't fall directly in Bateman's world.
I will begin with Jean, his Secretary, played by Chloe Sevigny. Her character is so sweet, that although she does not have a lot to do in the film, I ended up genuinely concern when she almost meets death by nail gun (a scene which I imagine is a reference to the nail gun rape scene in the book, which didn't make the film for probably quite obvious reasons)... The other character doesn't fare so well. Christie the whore, played by Cara Seymour, also suffers (quite badly) at the hands of Bateman but her character is treated in a way where I felt concerned for her and wanted her to escape the insane blood spattered chainsaw wielding maniac running after her....


.... She doesn't

Friday, 9 January 2009

This... is my boomstick!

No 372 - Army of Darkness
Director - Sam Raimi

An obvious choice for a quote title, but that line is really iconic - what else could I choose? Unfortunately I want to put my semi serious face on and talk about a couple of factors in this film that I find truly fascinating. However, I am essentially talking about a comedy. A comedy that stars Bruce Campbell none the less - so it will remain light hearted and fluffy as a deadite souffle....

In fact, let me begin with the fact that this is a comedy and not really a dark or black comedy, it is far more of a slapstick. Bruce Campbell's spectacular pratfalling abilities continue to take centre stage and his character has developed even more arrogance and seems to have become considerably more dense than he was in the past. Even the EVIL Dead seem to have lost the qualities that made them truly threatening and evil. There is only one real Evil Dead style killing, right at the start, complete with the requisite fountain of gushing blood. After that the risen and possessed corpses seem more interested in developing 3 stooges style attacks. Ash even manages to block a hand trying to poke out his eyes in stereotypical 3 stooges style...
It is an interesting progression to see the trilogy develop from an all out horror (that was one of the more famous faces of the video nasty scene) through being a blackly comic horror until this film where it is all out complete comedy - even including essentially muppet skeletons with silly voices and facial hair.

Whilst on the topic of the skeletons, I just want to mention how impressive Ray Harryhausen is. Despite being made 30 years prior to this, the skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts could easily be replaced with the stop motion skeletons in the Army of Darkness without anyone really noticing. They are so similar in style it shows just how fantastic an animator he was.

Now... onwards to point 2. This film suffers from Ash's cult status in what I have decided to call "Captain Jack Sparrow Syndrome". When Sam Raimi made Evil Dead 2, the film Evil Dead had reached cult status - mainly from the video nasty debacle. However, Evil Dead 2 showcased Bruce Campbell's comedic chops and turned Ash into a truly iconic cult character. So, by the time Sam Raimi made Army of Darkness it was really the Ash/Bruce Campbell show. The film doesn't even try to disguise the fact - the title sequence being introduced as Bruce Campbell Vs Army of Darkness.
Throughout the film we're given a little bit of Ash's back story - introduced to Evil Ash and also given dozens of tiny manic Ashes which persecute him. It is the completely ridiculous promotion of a character that reminds me of the multiple Captain Jacks that appear throughout World's End, World's End also introduces elements of Captain Jack's back story. Rather than being the cult enigma within the film, Johnny Depp becomes the crux of the story which dampens the film as no body else can quite live up to his presence.
Luckily, the entire of Army of Darkness is as insane as Ash. Bruce Campbell plays the bad guy in the film and the plot and action is so overblown and ridiculous that the whole film feels like a fan celebration of a cult hero, rather than just a film company pandering to the fans.

Despite being given about 17 different versions of Ash, he has lost none of his awesomeness or excellence. In this film he has become possibly the most badass person ever. He manages to teach an entire army how to fight. He mixes his own gunpowder. He creates a robot arm. For you see.... whilst Ash may work in a supermarket he appears to have a firm knowledge of engineering, armoury, physics and chemistry as well as being a crack shot and ultimate warrior. I suppose it is only natural that Ash can make his own gunpowder because how else does he get his seemingly endless supply of shotgun shells, that is something that had been bugging me for a while whilst watching it, so it is nice to be able to feebly cobble together some form of haphazard explanation.
As well as being a total badass, it is good to see Bruce Campbell's superb acting chops. I decided to sit down and watch Sam Raimi's director's cut, so instead of Ash arriving back at S-Mart to tell the story, he over sleeps by 100 years and ends up in a ruined London. Which is a far more hilarious Planet of the Apes style ending and allows the film to have the fantastic I OVERSLEPT final line.

The final point I wish to make before wrapping up my little blog (I know I said 2 points - but I frequently lie on this blog so get used to it...). This film is the first of the Evil Dead trilogy to be a direct sequel and yet, what happens at the start of the film completely contradicts what happened at the end of Evil Dead 2. Which is rather confusing.....

Confusing and sad.....

Sunday, 4 January 2009

If they had told me it was going to be fifteen years, would it have been easier to endure?

No 64 - Oldboy
Director - Park Chan Wook

I had heard a lot of very good things about this film and almost everyone I knew who had seen it was telling me that I really really had to see it too. I have had the film in my possession for a while and finally today got round to watching it.... and WOW.... what a film.

I had a vague idea of the plot (man is kidnapped, imprisoned for 15 years and released - all without an explanation) and that it was allegedly excellent. I also had knowledge that there was a scene where someone ate a live octopus. But there endeth my knowledge. Even my film geekery didn't prepare me for what I was about to sit down in front of.

It is a film which is built up of twists. Some fucking massive ones (which I won't mention here) and some little ones which show clever directing. I'm going to mention one now.... so if you're the type of person who doesn't want to know ANYTHING at all about a film look away for one paragraph. Also, if you are that type of person why do you read this blog because I frequently accidentally reveal stuff I shouldn't!

Anyway, the film begins with our hero Dae - Su, holding a man over the edge of a building by his tie. Naturally, the viewer's mind think this is an attack.... after all, this film is the second The Vengeance Trilogy. But no! It turns out that the man dangling by his tie attempted to commit suicide and Dae-Su stopped him. Oh, what a clever reversal of what was expected.... How it perfectly sets the tone to the film.

Let us talk about the film's tone (hello people who skipped the last paragraph, welcome back). From what I had heard about the film, I was expecting it to be dark. Very dark and very brutal. Which is why I was always shocked that my friend Richard spoke so highly of it. As a rule he doesn't like very dark very brutal films...

However, the film has a strong undercurrent of pitch black humour. Some of it solely through the subject matter - which is darkly amusing (if you're a horrible human being like I appear to be) and some of it through the way the film is presented. Although thematically very different, there were times when the tone reminded me of Fight Club: the use of voice over, the dark dark subject matter and the darker humour all pointed in that direction.

However - my ability at pinpointing similar tones maybe somewhat flawed. There were moments when this film made me think of Amelie, and this film is as tonally different to Amelie as it is possible to get! However there were small touches which pushed my thoughts that way, namely within Mido's scenes. She possesses the same naive chirpy facial expressions as Amelie, and the colour scheme which follows her in some scenes. However, I think it is mostly the fact that Mido's theme (the Last Waltz) has the same kind of feel and vibe as many of the tunes in the Amelie soundtrack. Music is a powerful tool....

The music also helps affect other scenes. Such as the fight scenes. I don't know what it is about western cinema but we are yet to touch on the beauty and almost ballet like elegance that Eastern cinema seems to effortlessly capture in their fight scenes. The fight scenes also touch on an interesting concept, which is the intimidating nature of Dae-Su as a combatant. He is not the greatest fighter in the world, he maybe physically fit but his training was imaginary and he spent his time punching a wall. He probably has very calloused knuckles. However, he is fighting a lot of other very fit seasoned fighters, so he isn't at any real advantage against them. However, what he has going for him is determination. A near insane persistence and craving for vengeance which means that what ever punishment he receives, he will scrape himself up from the floor and attack again. He doesn't stop after anything - not even knives to the back stop him from fighting - and that is truly frightening!

This is a film that is very very laden down by exposition - in fact, the last act basically consists of an awful lot of talking and a couple of horrifically violent bits that made me squirm and wince. However, the talking needs to be there to tell the masses of story which make up the plot, the reasoning and the twist. The only alternative would be that he never found out the reason for his imprisonment... and that would be far too unsatisfactory for the viewer.
It made me feel very dim that I didn't see the twist before it happened, but I didn't - and it was far better than anything I'd though. The pay off was fantastic and made the film so so so enjoyable.

Because of the film's heavy weighting on the twist, there isn't much more that I can say about it without ruining it all.... so I shall finish with some points I wish to make about the cast.

Firstly, the protagonist. Dae-Su is a character that goes through a lot of changes and is testament to the subtle brilliance of Min-sik Choi how effortless those changes seem. From a tired and scared drunken fool through to a rage filled blank eyed killer to the final scenes where he is an exhausted world weary shell, he manages to display this range through facial expression alone (once he stops being a drunken idiot, Dae-Su is a man of very little words). It is very impressive.

And finally, my shallow eye must turn to Ji-tae Yu who could be considered the villain of the piece (it is not that simple). He has a canal in his house.... ridiculous? Yes. Awesome? Also Yes. He has a remote controlled wardrobe which opens up into 4 segments - one of which is exclusively dedicated to cuff links and tiepins.... swoon! The man is a hero.
And it is scientific fact that the easiest way to show instant cool is to have an East Asian man in a smart black suit.

I have never seen it look anything but impossibly cool (and I apologise for the ever so slightly ignorant generalisation in that last bit.... but I have never seen evidence to the contrary)

exhibit 1 (Old Boy)
exhibit 2 (The Good, The Bad and The Weird)
exhibit 3 (Kung Fu Hustle)

Good night your honour!