Sunday, 28 June 2009

Hey! How come you never spoke before?... I didn't have anything I wanted to say that I thought you'd understand, and there still isn't!

No 434 - Tom and Jerry: The Cat Concerto
Director - William Hanna and Joseph Barbera

Elliot, Jo and I were enjoying a lazy Sunday. Which consisted of bacon sandwiches and whatever crap Sky was offering us. We had enjoyed (through lumps in throat and tears in eye) two episodes of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Sat through the bizarre contradictory nonsense that is the Little Mermaid 3 and were working through an hours worth of Tom and Jerry shorts.

To my delight, within this medley came The Cat Concerto. The very Tom and Jerry cartoon I had to blog about and had failed to find anywhere! Hoozah!

The story is very simple. Tom is playing Listz's Hungarian Rhapsody No 2 at a concert. He wakes Jerry who is asleep within the Piano and insanity ensues.

Now I have a problem with this. I have always understood that in Tom and Jerry, Jerry is the hero. Yet here he has established his home within A CONCERT PIANO. All Tom is doing is his job, as (surely) hundreds of pianists will have done before (quite why a cat (in a tux) would be performing a concert at all is a different matter).
So I feel I shouldn't cheer for Jerry as he bullies and persecutes the poor Tom.

What I do enjoy though is the excellent manic bonkersness of using the piano as a weapon. From the obvious (using the piano lid to flatten hands) to the ridiculous way Tom manipulates the piano hammers to attack Jerry.

It is a beautiful piece of anarchic slapstick with a stunning classical score. It has also been referenced by almost any piece of comedy using a piano. Be it the FANTASTIC Donald vs Daffy fight in Who Framed Roger Rabbit or the sublime silliness of Manny in the Grand Deception episode of Black Books.

And before I go... you may have guessed that the title of this blog isn't from this cartoon. Sadly Tom and Jerry aren't famed for their dialogue. So I took it from the superb 1992 movie in which they DO speak!

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

No I won't be a nun, no I cannot be a nun. For I am so fond of pleasure I cannot be a nun

No 236 - Black Narcissus
Directors - Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger

It is a landmark moment in my history of blogging. For with this film, I approached the world of Blue-Ray. Which felt rather redundant.
I should be watching my first Blue-Ray experience on a CGI-tastic, hi def, special effects bonanza. Or something crisp and Pixar. Not a 1947 intimate film about Nuns in the Himalayas!

What the Blue Ray does help with is the sheer glorious crispness of Technicolour. Something I have mentioned over and over again in my list of filmic loves. The vistas across India and the Himalayas are just stunning and the imagery is beautiful. It is just a shame that the film feels somewhat stilted for the first hour.

Now, I love Powell and Pressburger, ranking A Matter of Life and Death as one of my favourite ever films. However, the first hour of Black Narcissus is mundane to such a level that Mr Biddle fell asleep! Saying that though, the ending is so excellent (and will be discussed later) that it makes the film worth watching again to see the small elements fit into play.

The reason is that the first hour is a slow burn looking at how a remote location can chip away at a person's resolve. It is all about the characters slowly losing their grip on reality and become more irritable, more passionate and just a little bit unhinged. This is all exacerbated by the arrival of Mr Dean who is to be their aide should the nuns need any help.
He swans around being all awesome and wearing the shortest shorts ever known to man. No wonder the poor nuns find their passions inflamed by this pipe smoking scamp.

Gradually we see the nuns get sucked into their environments. It is odd for nuns (a solitary breed) to feel the oppression of remote loneliness, but they do and as the viewer we get to see them break down as they remember the things that happened to them before they joined the order.
They are affected by the climate, the thin air and the constant stream of locals. The world is too different from their own and slowly they start to react and their resolves weaken.

There is one character in this film who epitomises this slow breakdown. Sister Ruth played amazingly by Kathleen Byron. Sister Ruth is not only integral to the film's end but she is without doubt the most fascinating and amazing character in the film.

The clues to the film's resolution are subtly sown from the start of the film. Whilst the other nuns are volunteered into the new convent for their skills (in a scene which reminds Elliot of Krull, taking nuns with particular powers which will be useful in the film) she is taken because she is unwell and the fresh mountain air will do her good.
From the moment we see Sister Ruth we see that she is reluctant to be there, she assists the teacher because she has no set role and feels redundant. And then we have the arrival of Mr Dean.
The film shares an very stinted awkward borderline flirting between Mr Dean and the Sister Superior, Sister Clodagh. However, it is when Sister Ruth first sees Mr Dean's bare chest that raw, aggressive lust comes into play.

Gradually she obsesses over him. Her jealousy on the (really weak) banter between Sister Clodagh and her jealousy over the other nuns who have found their place only make her obsession worse.
Byron's physical change is what I find the most amazing. Gradually she loses her restraint, he posture. Her mannerisms and her face become wilder, more untamed. It is a fantastically subtle fall from grace and an amazing bit of acting at depicting the tumble from reserved nun into all out scary eyed madness.

After the slow burn of the first hour, the final 40 minutes are like a slap in the face. A shocking wake up call to all who watching this lovely little drama and the closest to a horror movie I have seen from Powell and Pressburger. As Sister Ruth prowls the convent desperate to get her revenge, the final confrontation and the final showcase of her insanity is really shocking and genuinely terrifying.
And the strength of the 40 minutes completely re-invigorates my view of the whole film, allowing the first hour to be a slow build up of subtle events which lead to this explosive, dramatic ending.

The only other real negative thing is the casual racism which sneaks its way in. I suppose it is inevitable in a film of that era, but I really don't like that fact that the character of Kanchi is a blacked up Jean Simmons!


No 354 – Un Chien Andalou
Directors – Louis Buñuel & Salvador Dali

Much like The Red Shoes and King Kong, this is a film which is rooted in my memories of MOMI. There they had a small display to Dali in film, with stills and props from both Vertigo and Un Chien Andalou.
Ever since that point I have wanted to watch it with a vigour that was only strengthened when I found out that a bull’s eye is slit open.

So I sat down to watch this epic piece of surrealist cinema. All 15 minutes of it!
(Hell... the film is so old it is public domain - download it and watch it yourself)

As if to make sure I’m not just waiting for the eye slitting, the film begins with a razor being sharpened, a ladies head being held back and WHAM! Eye slitting, and yucky eye goo all over the shot.

The rest of the film seems to follow a wooden box which appears in a number of events. There appear to be two reoccurring characters. A man and a woman. Although the character of the man appears in two guises, a good man who falls off his bike and then grows into clothes placed on a bed and a bad man who has ants on his hand.
We know that he is bad because he tries to molest the woman and turns into a zombie. The woman’s breasts turn into a bare bottom and her armpit hair ends up forming a beard for the man.
(I just read up on wikipedia that there are four characters The Wife, The Husband, The Lover, The Detective – and the story is an affair…. But I didn’t see that initially)

I was going to say that the film is just a series of surreal incidents but that seems a bit redundant as it is the work of two surrealist directors. But there are moments that feel quite Lynchian (a young boy pokes a dismembered hand with a stick, silent statue-esque torsos grow out of a beach) and moments that are just inexplicable (the man drags two grand pianos, each with a dead donkey tied to it and a confused priest tailing behind).
Each of these moments are interrupted with cards telling the passage of time. It becomes clear as the cards try to send us to the past that they have nothing to do with the story.

I’m sure that there is a lot going on that I don’t understand in this film and it isn’t just weirdness following a slit eye. However, with surrealism we can never be sure…

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Bad luck isn't brought by broken mirrors, but by broken minds

No 312 - Suspiria
Director - Dario Argenta

This is not going to be as epic a blog as I rustled up for Donnie Darko, as this film didn't lure me in in quite the same way. However, let us begin this discussion on Dario Argenta's 'Suspiria' a hokey and 70s horror film that is somewhat camp in its naffness.

The film bodes well in the opening scenes, mainly because it has my favourite actress of the 70s in the lead role. Ladies and Gentleman, may I introduce the mighty Jessica Harper. Or as I choose to call her - Phoenix.
Now, the thing I have found with Miss Harper is that she appears in some bad films. Sometimes these films are so bad that they transcend their rubbishness and enter genius - by which I mean go and watch The Phantom of the Paradise. Right Now.

Sometimes the films are just bad..... (sorry Shock Treatment, but you're nigh on unwatchable).

So whilst I was excited to see her in the film, it set the tone.... I wasn't hoping for a brilliant brilliant film.

The film is about Suzy Bannion (Harper) who joins a ballet school in Germany only to find that it is run by a coven of witches who have a taste for blood.
The acting is not brilliant, and it is made worse by the oddest dubbing I have ever seen.

Jessica Harper keeps her own voice however all the other characters appear to have been dubbed.
If it isn't dubbing then the sound control for the voices is appalling, it provides no sense of context. The voices don't echo. The voices don't get fainter as someone travels away. There is no doppler shift (my goodness... I never thought I'd be using that as a valid criticism of a film!).
All the voices seem very alienating, but eventually you get used to that and get into the film. However this strange sound structure opens up an even stranger score. The score is bonkers!

It begins quite common - your average plinky plonky synthy synthy 70s score. Like John Carpenter....
However, then all the weirdness kicks in. For reasons unknown, the score is accompanied by Gremlins singing along. I mean seriously. Click this link. Listen to the song... it sounds like ruddy singing gremlins!
It is a shame that the music is so rubbish because there are the occasional tense moment which is slightly ruined by the singing gremlins. The idea that at night the witches prowl through the school to prey on the students... THAT is scary and whilst the attacks are occasionally a bit dated looking, the horror is there.

I think Dario Argento was probably a big influence on things such as the Saw franchise. Let us look at two deaths in the film as case studies.

Firstly - The film's first Death scene.
Lets ignore the weird hairy arm that bursts out of nowhere... The scene itself is actually quite brutal and savage. The moment that I particularly like is when the victim has been so mutilated that her still beating heart is exposed, only for the knife to slip into the heart. All of this resulting in the twitching body being hanged. It is dark dark dark. It is bloody and violent but also sickly amusing. Very much Saw.

The sick amusement in the deaths is made all the more clear in the next death scene I wish to look at... the pursuit through the school:
It is a cruel humour that means the viewer watches the chase and the victim getting more and more desperate in her plight to escape. When she finally escapes through the window, she plummets into a room full of razor wire. It has the same teasing complexity that later overtakes plot within the Saw franchise.

As you can see from the film clips above, postmodernism has not been kind to this film. It is hard to take the lurid red blood (or the lurid red bulbs which illuminate the whole film in glorious brothel shades), the strange score and voice work or the wooden acting without thinking of Garth Merenghi.

Now, I want to state this isn't a review. My blogs are just my ponderous thoughts and opinions, and my opinion is thusly. This film hasn't aged well and sadly falls somewhere in the middle of things. It isn't a very good film but it isn't bad enough to become entertaining. It is just a dated and slightly ridiculous horror... and makes me more confused as to why In Bruges isn't in the list.

Monday, 15 June 2009

I'll tell you what he said! He asked me to forcibly insert the lifeline exercise card into my anus!

No 53 - Donnie Darko
Director - Richard Kelly

I wish to begin with a question. Why isn't In Bruges on this list? I sat down and watched In Bruges and was all prepared to write it up only to find it ISN'T on the list. A criminal omission - go see it... it is good. But badly advertised....

So, having failed on the first front I asked the mighty Richard Wyatt Hughes to select a film. He selected this film and we watched it and MY GOODNESS.... I'd forgot just how good it is.

If we ignore the sheer head-fuckery of the story for a second, I wish to begin with some of the amazing little flourishes which make this film so wonderful to watch.

Firstly... the soundtrack. There really was a lot of good music in the 80s and this film has an amazing selection of tunes. The music is good but it is helped by some really beautiful shots. The two which spring to mind are the opening shots of Donnie cycling home to the Killing Moon and the wonderful tracking shot of Donnie's school to Head Over Heels.
In fact, the tracking shot deserves more than a flippant remark. It deserves to be truly celebrated. By now, I'm hoping you've all seen the shot, either in the film or by clicking on that link up there. It is such a wonderful scene, as the camera scrolls through the school introducing all the characters who will be part of the film. As we scroll through there are a handful of characters I wish to focus on.

The first is Jim Cunningham. I have never given Patrick Swayze the most respect as an actor. I mean, he is at least partly responsible for this - and even this glorious rubbish couldn't get me to forgive him. However, he is amazing in Donnie Darko. I always found the character of Johnny Castle in Dirty Dancing to be a bit of a sleaze, and therefore can't help but shake the connection of Patrick Swayze and sleazy 80s camp. However, I think that Swayze might be aware of his reputation because he plays up on it marvellously. Cunnigham is almost the pastel suit wearing embodiment of sleazy 80s camp. It is perfect. It is terrifying.

Speaking of terrifying. There is some (retrospectively) very strange casting in the bullies. Go back to the school corridor video and have a look at the bullies. They're doing coke in the lockers. Well the one with his back to the camera is Seth Rogen! Seth Rogen! In his cinematic debut! Don't believe me? Here he is again being a hilarious heckler with chief mullet bully.... How bloody odd. Have they learnt nothing from the never ending story 3... never let a comic actor play a bully!

The next character I want to talk about is Karen Pomeroy, the English teacher played by Drew Barrymore. It is not necessarily the character I deem important, but Drew herself. Firstly her voice is amazing. There is something quite hypnotic about her tone that makes it wonderful to listen to. Not quite atonal, but a strange (and beautiful) flatness to it (you're going to have to watch that steadicam school shot again, but after it this time there is a scene of Drew Barrymore delivering an English class (about 2:20 into the video). What an excellent voice)... Again, that isn't important. What is important is that Drew Barrymore was the driving force behind this film. She was the producer, she had the clout (what an ace word) to get it made. Thank you Drew. Thew.
Even Richard Kelly feels the need to homage Drew. After all... there is a scene where the characters travel by bike. At Halloween. In costume. Does it remind you of anything?

The final of the peripheral characters I wish to talk about is Grethchen Ross. Donnie Darko's girlfriend, played by the lovely Jena Malone. If you read my blog on Into The Wild you will see my rambly rambly views on Jena Malone. Let me paraphrase here by saying they are quite favourable and I do somewhat fancy Gretchen in this film. It is made stronger by the fact that Gretchen has quite a tragic element to her. Searching for love and physical affection only once bad things have happened to her....

But I feel I have been bandying the issue too much. Let us tackle to plot.

So.... roughly.... and remember, this is one man's opinion. Mine. Donnie sets up a parallel universe by dying when a jet engine falls on him. In this parallel world he survives but many other people are killed. However this sets up the situations needed for a plane to fly over his house, allowing a jet engine to fall through a worm hole and kill him in the original universe.
However. Donnie has a choice.... does he die and let all these people live? Or does he continue living in this new parallel universe.
Or is it all a side effect of his behavioural problems or the medication he is on?

See... Simple....

Throughout this, he is given a guide... Frank - the 6ft rabbit grim reaper figure and a character Donnie kills at the end of the film (It is a Halloween costume.... this isn't Fight Club meets Harvey) - who has travelled back in time to the start of the parallel world in order to help Donnie set up the events needed to get the jet engine to fall.

Frank is a visually arresting presence, as is his soft reverberating and chilling voice. He is brilliant designed and (rightfully) became instantly cult, instantly iconic, and for many the selling point of the film "Wow! A 6ft tall demonic bunny rabbit predicts the end of the world?! Lets watch that!". The other thing I like is that scenes with Frank have a dream like progression. They are individual moments joined by slow ghostly fades. there is no order or logic to the scenes, which helps imply that it could all be a dream or hallucination.

There is a lot more that can be said about Frank... and his reveal at the end of the film is a true open mouth shocker of a moment. However, I don't want to get bogged down with the many many theories and ideas which orbit this. I just want to enjoy the film.

As we come to the end of the film, it becomes clearer and clearer that Donnie will have to die, just to stop the horrible repercussions that have spilled into his new universe.
After Donnie's death there is a truly beautiful scene. Sadly, it has been slightly musically ruined these days because Gary Jules' cover of Mad World has been somewhat overplayed. However the first time I saw this was the first time I'd heard it and I found it truly moving. (ooh did you know the music video for Gary Jules' cover was directed by Michel Gondry?! Neither did I... thank you google).
Look at the way the song is used in the film, and look at what each of the moments imply...
The film hints that those who have been involved with Donnie's choice (The Manipulated Living, to coin Richard Kelly's phrase) have been left with an echo or faint memory of what happened. This is shown the most blatantly when Frank traces the edge of his eye socket with the faint memory of a bullet hole.
But it is also seen with Jim Cunningham who wakes up sweating and crying as he has the faint memories of being caught for his paedophile ring.
It is seen with Cherita Chen, who spends the whole film being bullied until she is told by Donnie that everything will be OK. At the end of the film we see her sleeping soundly and content with a smile on her face. The first smile on her face.

It is also seen in Donnie's family. Another moment of the film's superb casting. Not only the excellent decision of casting Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal as Donnie and Elizabeth Darko (creating a beautiful, natural and witty sense of sibling rivalry) but also in the casting of the rest of the family. I specifically want to point out Mary McDonnell as Donnie's mum because it is Laura Roslin and I'm still in a bit of a Battlestar Geek Mode.

In fact, if you watched the Mad World scene in the video above you would have seen it end with Gretchen's interaction with Donnie's family.
It illustrates beautifully the sense of unknown, unexplained connection that they share and the idea of subconscious memories which have been touched on in the musical moment.

This film shows off Richard Kelly's ability to handle massive themes and philosophies and work them into beautiful human dramas with subtlety and restraint. And it works perfectly.

Far better than when he doesn't have to use restraint. (Though Southland Tales has the occasional brilliant comedy weird moment).
And far better than when he is not in control of the Franchise (shame that producers even think there should be a franchise on such a film....)

Friday, 5 June 2009

I don't fuck anybody for money! I do it for fun!

No 146 - Shampoo
Director - Hal Ashby

I am somewhat disappointed. I have vague memory of a scene in a camp 70s musical where a lady hides a bomb in her wig and tries to sabotage a TV set... I don't think it is Hairspray... but was convinced it was Shampoo. It isn't. Shampoo isn't a big camp musical number. It isn't even really a comedy. It is incredibly 70s though.

Like, so 70s it seems like a cliche!

This is a film about a hairdresser who is trying to break away from his employer and go it alone... at the same time he is shagging away with pretty much EVERYONE. It is quite hilarious. However for a film with an awful lot of sex there isn't any nudity... how disappointing. There are some very glamorous ladies though.
As this film was made in 1975, there are a number of women who appear in it and who are considerably younger than I have seen them before (or at least considerably younger looking). The first is Goldie Hawn playing Jill, the poor girlfriend to Warren Beaty's serial shagger. Her character is full of Goldie Hawn's trademark ditsy charm and she comes off as utterly adorable - it is in this film where you can see the similarities between her and her daughter.

The other character is Carrie Fisher. Now, everyone talks about the Return of the Jedi bikini, but there is something about Carrie Fisher's character Lorna (the daughter of one of Warren Beatty's conquests) that mixes childlike youth and exuberance and also a sexual predator teasey element. It is quite a performance!

I do find the sex element of the film very amusing, especially as the film was written and produced by Warren Beatty. Who also stars! How amusing....

Moving away from the sex for a minute (which is easier said than done) I wish to talk about one of the minor characters who struck a chord. Sadly he is such a minor character that he doesn't seem to appear in google-land. I will therefore describe it...
His name is Johnny Pope (played by Tony Bill) and he is the director of an advert which Jill is auditioning for.
The reason I think he is so awesome is that he looks just like my dad looked in the 80s. Only he has a handlebar moustache, which is far cooler than a full beard (sorry dad). So if you know my dad, it has added comedy value for that reason.

More universal comedy comes from the power of the 70s and a complete lack of political correctness. Especially on the fact that Warren Beatty's character is a hairdresser. Expect a lot. And I mean A LOT of references to the fact that hairdressing is a job for faggots.
What I particularly like is that when Warren Beatty admits to sleeping with older women, the reply is "You have a thing for older women? That's kind of faggoty".
You also have your typical rich snobs (complete with black working staff) and the most hideously un-pc line ever.
"I don't want to get pregnant after 30, it increases the chances of your baby being a Mongolian Idiot"

Quite the scandal.
The other scandal is that this film has NOTHING to do with this....