Friday, 24 April 2009

It is so difficult to make a neat trump of killing people with whom one is not on friendly terms.

No 42 - Kind Hearts and Coronets
Director - Robert Hamer

Frack me! It has been a long time since I last posted. I must apologise to those that read these messages. I have been distracted by Battlestar Galactica. It has been taking up all my free time. If you haven't ever seen it, I heartily recommend cracking out the 4 series and having a watch. I am only half way through series 3 and it is an intense roller coaster.
And there are so many lovely pretty people. Like this one. And this one. And this one. Space is a good place to be.

Yet, whilst this seems like an odd way to start a blog about a 1949 Ealing classic, there is common ground. The common ground is that of the Cylons (man made robots that rebelled and are now trying to wipe out the human race). For as well as the magnificently elegant chrome machines (a real step up from those of the 60s) there are the 'skin jobs'. Robots that look like humans - and there are many copies.
This opens beautiful scenes of multiple cylons arguing with each other, all played by the same actor. I would love to show you some of these amazing 'how did they do that' scenes, but they are so rich with spoilers that I wouldn't dare.

The doors for such multiple character acting was really thrust open by Sir Alec Guiness' D'Ascoyne family. Allowing us to have the cylons. Allowing us to have Dr Strangelove. Allowing us to have..... Norbit.... and the Klumps......... hmmmm

I was very happy to finally find this film in Fopp for £3. It just seems to be one of those films which is always on sale for about £20.... far more than I'm willing to pay. Because of this, it has been a film that I had never seen. Despite really wanting to.

Luckily, after finally getting a copy, it lived up to the expectations that had amassed over the years and years of longing. It turned out to be far funnier and far darker than I was initially expecting. This is a pitch black comedy.
I presume that it is hard to really write a comedy about mass murder without it being anything but pitch black, but this sets the scene and the tone straight away. Following the bumbling hangman as he gets very excited about being able to kill a Duke. Fretting over the correct terminology of what to call him and worried that he'll mess it up as the last execution of a duke (back in the old days) was a terribly bungled affair.

Once the tone is established, we get to meet the characters. A despicable bunch of bastards to be honest. There are not that many likable characters. Louis, the protagonist, is shallow, bitter, petty and a murderer. Sibella, his great love, is even shallower - an adulterous, money grabbing, blackmailing tease. The only characters that come out seeming decent people at all are the people that get offed.

Let us begin with a look at the D'Ascoyne family. They may have initially segregated Louis' mother but after that you see that some of them are jolly nice chaps.

The priest - may be boring, but his heart is in the right place
The Banker - May initially refuse him a job but is certainly a kind sort.
However, the real heart ache goes to poor young Henry D'Ascoyne. A fellow who is terribly kind and terribly sweet. However, not only does Louis murder young Henry, he then woos and courts Henry's widow. The poor poor chap.

I realise now, that I haven't even put up a synopses of the plot yet, instead plunging straight into character analysis. However I have my reasons. There is a strong motivation for me to begin with the D'Ascoyne family and with Sir Alec Guiness. Before I even knew what the film was about, I knew this was the film where Guiness played 8 characters. This is the talking point of the film. It doesn't matter how clever the story is. How witty the script is. The selling point is the D'Ascoyne family.
It is a terrific piece of acting and it shows how skilled Guiness is at creating characters. For whilst wardrobe and costume is there to help differentiate, each character's mannerisms, speech and body language is completely different and glorious to behold.

If you need one solid reason to see this film, the D'Ascoyne family should be that reason. Luckily you'll then be pleasantly surprised by a savagely funny and inventive story and a horrible leading man.

I love that Louis is a horror. He is a murderer. He is an opportunist. He is obsessed with wealth and power and status. He has an affair with a married woman who is equally shallow and cruel, leading to the suicide of her husband. He manipulates. He lies. He bullies. He is just utterly splendid.
The film opens the night before Louis' execution. So there is no need for a moral high ground. You can delight in his shenanigans and plotting knowing full well that he will get his comeuppance.

Rightfully so, the final scenes in the prison have one of the best laughs in the whole film, especially the final moment.

The only point where I found morality kicked in and I was genuinely shocked was one of the aspects that date the film. That is the use of the N word. I'm used to it appearing in films in order for it to be offensive or racist. I'm used to it being said by the rappers, reclaiming it for the hippety hoppety music. But I'm not used to it casually being mentioned in conversation. It is casually mentioned in this film. Twice. Both times in the context of Eenie Meanie Miney Mo.... but even so.... I was a little startled.

It is a truly brilliant film, a superb comedy and black as hell. If you're the type of person who can get a giggle out of murder. Then I'd recommend this little gem to you.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

We'd better get back, 'cause it'll be dark soon, and they mostly come at night... mostly.

No 30 - Aliens
Director - James Cameron

It is my to my great shame that I have never seen the Alien films. It isn't because I didn't want to. I did want to. I just never seem to get motivated. I mean I watched Alien a while ago and loved it, however realised that I had seen most of it already just through clip shows and stuffs. I then bought the Aliens and Predator box set including all the films in those two franchises and their wonderful cinematic pairing. But didn't get round to watching Aliens till yesterday....

I was expecting it to be a similar situation as it was with Alien. I was expecting to watch it and recognise scenes from clip shows and iconic moments. But I didn't. The film was a complete surprise and a very pleasant one.

Chris Hewitt of Empire found out that it is probably the most quotable film of all time. And I recognised the homages and spoofs. I mean as soon as I saw the giant Exo Skeleton I knew how the film would end. I'd seen it in Wallace and Gromit (no clip..... sadly). I'd played it out in Conker's Bad Fur Day. I had a fair idea of the ending... but not the roller coaster leading up to the ending.

This film shows what a powerhouse James Cameron is. Writing and developing and directing a sequel to a sci-fi that didn't need a sequel. Seven years after the first film. Luckily his vision is amazing, turning the claustrophobic 'killer' film of the first into a claustrophobic 'siege' film. Replacing minors and engineers with trained soldiers but then seeing them get massacred by wave after wave of the terrifying Xenomorphs. Alien is an amazing film, but this is the film that launched the franchise, for good or for bad.

What I love about this is that it takes a small point that is never touched on in the first and expands and explores it. It is a really clever plot development, that is rare in sequels. It also explores the world of the Aliens films and that means we get to see 80s future. I just love 80s future.
It is all grey and clunky with pixelly computers and dot matrix printers. Every film, from Brazil to Aliens manages the same in some form or other. And I find it hilarious.
Whilst this film begins in the bureaucracy of inner city space life, we soon move into the cool bits. The soldiers. The guns. the monsters.

Let me break it down.
  • The Soldiers - ARE AWESOME. The most rubbish bunch of Marines I have ever seen. With their flabby sarge and their bizarre neuroses. I am particularly fond of Hudson who is the worst Marine ever. Whining and whimpering and using the word 'Man' so much it is like going to war with a beatnik stereotype.
  • The Guns - are huge. I mean seriously, it is like carrying around an extra person. They seem unfeasibly large. Like they're over compensating. But, the guns do have radar and that is cool.
  • The Monsters - lets not beat around the bush. This is what we want. James Cameron does not disappoint. For, whilst Ridley gave us an Alien. Cameron gives us 156 (roughly). Drooling, scurrying, fucking terrifying. Made all the more terrifying as we see them work in a pack. Plotting and attacking. Rather than merely prowling a ship. But best of all.... James Cameron introduces the Queen. The gigantic ultra bitch. Far more savage than any mere soldier Alien.
This is Cameron's main forte - the evolution of the series. Not only does he manage to develop the Aliens (surely an impressive feat, as they run the risk of being somewhat one dimensional predators) but he turns Ripley into something wonderful. We have already seen that Ripley has a mean survival streak in the first film, after all - she survives. However in this film one simple element is introduced which brings out her bad ass side.
For whilst in Alien, she protects a cat, her we have the introduction of Newt (not to be mistaken for Newt) which introduces Ripley's Maternal Side. And that is not a side you want to run afoul of.
With a super powerful grenade launching, bullet spurting, flame throwing wonder gun she goes and she destroys the Aliens. Ending up throwing one out of the airlock. As is tradition.

What I like about this film is how it respects the original, and then ups the ante. The Aliens are still a formidable opponent, just the humans are now tougher and better equipped. However, the only way to truly kill them is still to blow up where they are and destroy EVERYTHING.

I like that.... Aliens has expanded the story and made it MORE terrifying it rather than diluting it.

Cameron's sci fi horror legacy is grand. With this and the Terminator films and Piranha two - it certainly bodes well for Avatar. I am very excited.

Of all the seven deadly sins. Jealousy is the most deadly

No 346 - Leave Her to Heaven
Director - John M Stahl

Another old film that I have heard nothing about. I must say, that the big thing I'm going to have got from this game is a lot more cinematic culture drilled into my head.

This film seems to be the predecessor to stuff like Fatal Attraction, the concept of a couple being slowly sabotaged by a party within the relationship. In this case, it is the gradual disintegration if Ellen's sanity. The disintegration is a really disturbing thing to see, her character goes from being a flirty, delightful and very attractive to be vicious, cold and bat shit insane. The other thing is that as her sanity degrades, she becomes far less physically attractive too.

I don't want to go into too much description about what she does because that'll stumble into spoiler territory and that'll make me feel bad. However, the crux of it is she doesn't want ANYONE getting close to her man. That includes:
  • Her own family
  • His disabled younger brother (yeah, you see where this is going)
  • Her own unborn child (we're getting into dark territory)
Of course Richard Harland doesn't make it easy on himself. Being a little bit of a flirt. Especially with Ellen's sister. My little tip is - if you're dating a psychotically possessive madwoman, don't flirt with her sister.
Even though Ruth is a very pretty miss.

However, for a flirt he has some pretty hilarious tactics. He is an author, and sees a pretty girl on a train reading one of his books. So starts to quote it to her. Which did make me laugh. And which seemed to work as it certainly piqued her interest.

After a successful wooing, there left only one problem - her fiance.

Here we get to see the mighty VINCENT PRICE in full whack. What i like about this film is that even in 1945 the power of ratings was playing in marketing. For Price gets first billing in the film, despite having little more than a cameo. A very important cameo, but he does only appear in three scenes.
And he is SO young. Unrecognisably young.

I mean, the Vincent Price I know is the one from the 60s, all crazy eyes and creepy moustache. Not this fresh faced slip of a man. All handsome and broad shouldered. It is hardly natural.
In fact, I didn't realise it was him till he started speaking. It is quite strange to hear his creepy nasal voice coming from the strapping All American. However his part is excellent and when he appears for the court scenes he is unintentionally hilarious.
It seems that his prosecution of repeatedly badgering the witness with the same aggressive question (Do you love her? Do YOU love HER? DO YOU LOVE HER? etc) seems to work. As Richard is cleared of murder and instead gets some other jail sentence (I can't remember now) of only two years.
It is all somewhat ridiculous. The whole film is in fact.

However, for all the ridiculous, it does look beautiful. This is the thing I love about old films. Technicolour. Yes it makes most of the colours look oddly muted and pastel. But the primary colours are so beautiful. So vibrant. It makes skies, and eyes, and vistas astounding.

I could watch Technicolour films all day long.

(hmmm - another quite short blog.... but not much to say on this one. Ok, not brilliant film.)

Saturday, 4 April 2009

When the opponent expands, I contract. When he contracts, I expand. And when the opportunity presents itself, I do not hit. It hits all by itself.

No 474 - Enter The Dragon
Director - Robert Clouse

HI-YAH.... And other such noises. When watching Enter the Drago, you have to remember what a genre defining film it was, specifically in the whole 'Exploitation Cinema' movement as it was the first American martial arts film. It is because of this that the film feels clichéd - with the gloriously 70s framing, including crash zooms and brilliant brilliant damn near iconic score.

What made this film even better is that I had no option to watch it in Cantonese. The only option available to me was bad English dubbing, which really enriches the whole experience... Especially when the Engish people are speaking English with terribly dubbed English accents. It is just a beautiful sense of ludicrousness.
This is not Martial Arthouse. This is good old stupid chopsocky. And it is good. And your socky will be chopped.

Whilst the film itself was directed by Mr Robert Clouse, the fight scenes are what really matter an they were choreographed by Bruce Lee. It is at this point, before we go any further, that we have to comment on Lee and his phenomenal physical presence. He is an amazing fighter and he might pull silly faces and make silly noises when he fights, but even so. I wouldn't want to be up against him even if I was in a suit of armour. With a hundred axes. Which were burning. The man is just a skin sack of muscle. He has muscles on his muscles on his muscles and almost literally nothing else. What an impressive and utterly intimidating figure.

But it does make for some excellent fight scenes. As well as Lee (who has a surprising lightness and comedy as well as being kick-ass) we are introduced to a whole range of other fighters. For this is a martial arts competition and it has attracted a lot of people. Who are all hilarious in their 70s splendour. There are however two that need a special mention. The other 'Good Guys' in this competition.
  • Roper - Gambling addict who falls in love too easily and who is cocky and arrogant and helps Lee with the trouble and the fighting.
  • Williams - the true star of this little story. An utter stereotype of a black American in the 70s. With his giant afro and hip cat jive talk. He is full of comedy gold as he has sex with four women at once. You just want him to win everything. He is the king of king fu disco. I bloody love him.
The plot of the film is, of course, nonsense. There is a story about Lee's family being killed, and the concept of honour being a critical driving force (a concept which is probably lot on a lot of the western audience). A government agency hires Lee to sign up to a martial arts competition as a spy. Spying on the organiser of the even who is evil and dastardly.

And he is evil and dastardly. He appears to have come from the Big Book of Bond Baddies. Han - is an Asian Christopher Lee, mixed with Dr No. He has a detachable robotic hand that he occasionally swaps for absurdly un-useful weapons (oooh a furry plank of wood with nails in. How I tremble) and, almost by necessity, he has a white cat.
His evil plot is almost as absurd and impractical as he is (lets get people addicted to heroin in my secret underground lab then we can easily get them shipped off in the white slave business.... all from my SECRET island).

But then we don't watch this for the plot

We watch it for the fighting.

And the fighting is good.

All these years, all these memories, there was you. You pull me through time.

No 484 - The Fountain
Director - Darren Aronofsky

Right, Toby's computer has the worst, and most temperamental keyboard in the world. Hence my appallingly written last blog (I know, a bad workman yadda yadda yadda) and the fact that I didn't write all three last night. But I'm back. And I haven't learnt my lesson because I'm back on the knackered old Presario, only this time I'm being VERY careful with my typing.... I don't want people to think I'm a simpleton.

So, I finally got round to seeing The Wrestler, which is a fabulous film and as I had a roughly 2 hour flight to Spain ahead of me I thought I would crack out my lovely little Archos device and watch something. With Aronofsky fresh in my head, I selected this little gem.

This film is a very confusing confusing number. I'm aware that this isn't the exact story, as originally planned and that it had been scaled down for budget. I'm also aware that there are other parts of the Fountain Canon that I have not partaken in. However, the film can be viewed on its own, if you don't mind a bit of head fuckery.

The film follow Thomas as he searches for a cure for his dying love Isabelle. This may seem like a simple enough concept but it is here where we throw the interesting curve ball of Time. Incidentally, I don't know if curve ball was the right word to use in this analogy as I have very little knowledge in armoured rounders.
But... back to Time.
  • Tomas is a Spanish Conquistador, asked by Queen Isabella of Spain to find the Tree of Life so that she will not die and so that she can liberate Spain from bondage.
  • Tommy is a modern day doctor using a mysterious tree sap to find a cure for the cancer killing his wife Izzi.
  • Tom Creo is a bald headed man floating in a bubble through space. Taking a dying Tree of Life to Xibalba. A nebula in space, that is also the Mayan Afterlife.

These three stories flit and change and interweave and open up a difficult aspect. Is Thomas the same person throughout. Is Isabella the same person throughout? It is certainly hinted that Tom Creo is supposed to be Tommy many many years in the future (in an act of grief, Tommy tattoos his wedding ring onto his finger. The future Tom Creo not only has the wedding band tattoo but also has tattoo rings going up both arms as a reminder of his time spent without Izzi.)

It is with Tomas, that the continuation becomes a bit more standard and less ingenious. For Tomas is a fictional character written in the book Izzi is writing. If Tomas' story just fluttered through the narrative in the same way that Tommy's and Tom's do, it would create a far more interesting structure. I know that the graphic novel has a different set up that couldn't be done in the film (budgetary reasons) so I may have to hunt it out in order to get the full story.

The structure o the film is also quite easy to follow. Aspects of Tomas' story echo what is happening with Tommy or with Tom. The 3 strands are all telling the same tale in different ways. It is only at the end of the story that things begin to go mad. As Tommy tarts to finish The Fountain for Izzi, his tale blends the three Thomases together into one wibbly wobbly timey wimey head fuck where Xibalba causes time travel and flying and exploding into flowers. All a bit mental but culminating into the dying Tree of Life exploding into... well... life.

It is said that the Mayans believed that from the Stomach of First Father came creation. The tree of life erupted out of him leaving only his head. In this film Tomas is killed by flowers and plants erupting from a wound in his stomach and taking over his body. This only happens in the narrative once Tom Creo takes the tree to Xibalba. It could be that Tommy is first father.... that he creates the universe and that the simple constraints of time should not be taken into account.

Whatever happens and however you view this film I don't think you should take the chronology of it into consideration. If you accept the story as a study of love and man's determination to stay with the person they love, it becomes a lot more rewarding than if you try and make the three story strains fit comfortably together.

So that is my view on the story.... It isn't the clearest view in the world, but it isn't the clearest story in the world either. Watch it and form your own opinions.

However, there are some other None story points that I wish to discuss. Beginning with the visual style. Aronofsky has always conjured up some amazing images (check out Pi, for some disturbing examples) and in this, his Mayan world is something beautiful. As his swirly inky depiction of space. It looks like when you dip paper into oil paints and water (a technique called Marbling at my old nursery), only with light, and it is truly beautiful.

And finally, the acting. Whilst Rachel Weisz is excellent, portraying the fragile innocence and strong determination that makes up her character, the spotlight here really shines on Hugh Jackman. His three Thomases create a massive range of action, emotion and cerebral stillness. It shows how talented and varied an actor he can be and sets him nicely away from his chiseled beefcake comic book star.

And he sings too!

Friday, 3 April 2009

Maybe it's my quaint small town morals but I won't do murder

No 323 - The Last Attraction
Director John Dahl (No relation....)

Sorry people, don't know if you've been paying attention or not but you may have noticed I've not been around much recently. Don't worry, I still love you- my laptop power lead has died, so I am now sat at Toby's laptop ready to get my blog on. Today is a TRIPLE WHAMMY of excitement.

And lo, we begin with The Last Seduction, a film that I had never heard of before it flumped through my letter box and a film that is so delightfully 90s in appearance and fashion (it was made in 1994 after all).

The film is about Bridget, a horrible horrible bitch, one of the last great Femme Noirs, played brilliantly by Linda Fiorentino. She is really hot in this film too (I'd only ever seen her in Dogma before) but I think that (worryingly) comes from the fact that she is so cruel. Don't like what that seems to say about me. She is a queen of manipulation and all this film really explains is how to get men to do what you want (its easy, the answer is sex). However as well as being a fantastic manipulator, she is also the most cliched New Yoiker I have ever seen. Full of cynicism and aggression and strong coffee. I think she even says "I'm walking here" at some point.... it i just ridiculous.
However, as hilarious as the world of 90s business is, it isn't as funny as when this world clashes with the world of early 90s small town America. Her initial annoyance with the friendly politeness of the town is ace (watch her grimace withe every 'hello' or 'good morning') it becomes far funnier when she settles in, with a job and a booty call, and small town America has to adapt to her New York wiley ways. The highlight of which has o be the visit by a Black Man, which becomes quite the talk of the town....

However of all the small town oddness, the character of Michael seems the strangest. He is picked up by Bridget and becomes her casual sex friend, and gradually over time is convinced to murder her husband. But she is INSANE. How desperate for sex must this fella be to go along with her outlandish tantrums and demands. Standing there in his horribly dated denim shirt he listens to Bridget complains about not being able to act out one little murder.... He wants to leave his small town and seek out a new life. Yet he stays for a controlling psycho. It really makes me feel sorry for the bastard!

This film is full of little nuances and moments of manipulation. And when the end comes and you see just how clever Bridget has been in getting her own way.... well you have to be impressed. So,it is no surprise to see that the bad guy (or gal) wins and she drives off in her limo, surrounded by piles of money before the critics roll.

Of course back in the dizzy world of 90 business, limos showed you were successful, rather than on a hen party or going to a 6th form ball