Sunday, 30 August 2009

There are things you do hate, Lord. Perfume-smellin' things, lacy things, things with curly hair.

No 71 - The Night of the Hunter
Director - Charles Laughton

Apparently this film got such little interest that Charles Laughton never directed again, and yet, over time it has been regarded as one of the greatest films of all time. I knew nothing about it, only the iconic 'Love' and 'Hate' hands.

The hands belong to the travelling preacher, Rev Harry Powell, played by Robert Mitchum in an intense bit of acting. From the moment he arrives in the film (very early on), you can see that he is a bad bad man. He murders women because he believes God hates them. Then he uses their money to fuel his next murder. It is a very short term life plan, but he seems to be good at it. Well, good at the murdering and escaping bit... as he gets caught for stealing a car and is sentenced to jail.

We are then introduced to the children protagonists John and Pearl Harper and their dad. In my opinion, the dad is just as bad as the Preacher. He kills some people, steals some money and then gives the son (who is about 10...) the responsibility of safeguarding that money.
Considering the family NEVER use the money, and considering the amount of trouble it brings, I'm surprised they bother to keep hold of it. Sure $10,000 is a lot of cash (specially in them days) but they NEVER SPEND IT! This is a big issue for me. The Harper children have their father executed by the state and their mother murdered by a mad man. If they just handed over the money (which they won't miss, seeing as they're just lugging it about and not actually spending it) at least one of their parents would have ruddy survived. It just doesn't make sense... and as a key aspect of the film's plot, I think that that is a serious flaw.

Anyway... I'm jumping ahead of myself. I need to explain the story first.

So, in order to give a very brief synopses, Mr Harper and the Preacher meet in jail, as they're sharing a cell (you'd think that a petty car thief wouldn't be sharing a cell with a murderer on death row... but what do we know) and the Preacher finds out about the money and goes on the hunt. Stopping at nothing to get his hands on the money.

That brief synopses already shows one of the things I don't like about the story. The lazy use of plot devices, such as sleep talking.

Mr Harper manages to sleep talk perfectly coherent sentences about the money he stole and how to find it... This is what gives the preacher the advantage and lets him set off on his quest. I'm sorry... but regardless of this being made in the 50's, that is lazy plotting.

The other thing that I find very odd is the amount of trust and adoration that is instantly bestowed up on Rev Harry Powell. We do live in far more cynical and untrusting times, but the preacher is quite a creepy bloke, yet besides this he manages to get the entire town's trust in about 2 days.
I think some of this comes from him being a preacher, but this doesn't explain how he manages to marry Mrs Harper in less than a week of knowing her, neither does it explain why Pearl Harper seems so smitten with him, running up to give him a big hug every time they meet. Even at the end of the film, after the preacher has tried to kill John and has threatened Pearl - causing the two to run away and go into hiding - even after all of this, Pearl still runs up to him and gives him a hug when he tracks them down.

I just don't understand... I know that this is quite an old film but there should be some consistency. By now Pearl should be absolutely terrified of the Preacher. He has caused an awful lot of trouble.

He is, however, easily the best thing in the film. A hulking, brooding, malevolent presence with an impressive level of single mindedness. His first mission is to find those $10,000. You have to admit he has a pretty impressive detective style. He spends the first half of the film getting angry at the children and shouting "Where is the money?" and then getting angrier when they don't tell him.
Finally he finds out where the money is and the second half of the film can get away. This is where we see the true evil side of the Preacher as he tracks the children down in order to get the money. He is impressively relentless - crossing through miles of American countryside and always eventually appearing at whatever place the children have chosen to hide. He is an unstoppable force, like the T1000. Only he is also a woman hating bigot. Which makes him a bit more terrifying.

The terrifying nature of Rev Harry is what makes the film's ending so disappointing. He is shot and runs away, hiding in a barn where he is caught, arrested and sentenced to death. After such a build up in the film such a build up of the character. After portraying him as this terrifying relentless presence. It seems a shame for his story to end in such an anticlimactic way.....

Saturday, 29 August 2009

It's called a reality check. The last thing Amélie wants

No 196 - Amelie
Director - Jean-Pierre Jeunet

I have just been to France for a week. Which was lovely. Wherein I decided, rather than sitting indoors with a DVD player I should go to the pool. Reintroduce my self to Ping Pong. Sip fine red wines as I read American Gods. Visit Cognac and stare in disbelief at 200 year old bottles of booze which cost upwards of £1,500.

So I did all these things and I returned to England. I sit in my Putney home feeling fully Francophillic with nothing worth drinking but a bottle of White wine. Therefore it seemed a butch and manly evening of plonk and Amelie was in order. Or to give it its full name (which is never used for some reason) The Fabulous Destiny of Amelie Poulain. Or... to give it its actual proper and real name Le fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain.

Before I start talking about the film, I want to mention the oddness of the stock from which it emerged. By which I don't mean I'm going to get hideously geeky about negatives, but in fact mean I want to talk about Jean-Paul Jeunet. If you haven't seen any of his earlier films, go an check them out. Specifically Delicatessen and City of Lost Children. They are wonderfully twisted films showing a vivid and somewhat bonkers dystopian future. It is probably for the best if you ignore his first English Speaking film....
The easiest way to Anglify the strangeness is if you think of Terry Gilliam making Brazil and 12 Monkeys and then deciding he wants to adapt the visual style of Wes Anderson in order to make a pretty, fluffy and utterly twee romantic comedy (in fact - watch Wes Anderson's prelude to Darjeeling Limited, Hotel Chevalier (part 1 and part 2 for your delectation) and see how much it feels like a sad Amelie).

It is a strange concept, and it is done with a stunning level of prowess.

A lot of this comes from the sheer amazingness of Audrey Tautou's performance. This was her 'break out role' and it rocketed her into the public eye. Justifiably so. For she is amazing. Throughout almost all of the film, the camera locks on to Amelie. She is more than just the titular character, she is the very heart and soul of the film, the literal centre of the film (it is rare for there to be a scene in which she isn't the central focal point).
Amelie carries the whole film and it is important that the audience like her and want her to succeed. I have heard that there are people who don't like the film Amelie (too cutesy, too twee, to unrealistic) however I defy anyone not to fall a little bit in love with the character of Amelie. Audrey Tautou plays her with a delicate undercurrent of fragility which sits along perfectly with a cheeky vixen side. The two sides interplay beautifully with each other, Amelie occasionally doing something to remind you that she isn't as naive as she may seem (see her set up the illicit sex scene in the toilets of the cafe, or her amused yet bored face during intercourse).

However more important than her innocence, more important than her naughty side is the fact that Amelie is a hopeless romantic. Her every action has an elegant beauty to it, she is trying to make the world a better place. It is daring and bold yet idealist and elegant. She is the epitome of a romantic figure. By which I don't mean Love in the conventional sense, though her actions are guided by a love of people, a love of the moment, a love of joy.

Amelie's personality is stunning and is brought out in the nuances of Tautou's face, flitting from wide eyed innocence to cheeky smile in a moment. Audrey Tautou is just beautiful in this film, she is shot in a way that seems as if Amelie radiates light and warmth. Amelie is supposed to be a person people want to be near to, and in this film Tautou has the right level of approachable stunningness to fit the role. It is very different to her most recent film. As Coco Chanel, she is still stunning (Audrey Tautou is a beautiful beautiful person) but doesn't feel a fraction as approachable as Amelie.

It is not just Amelie who has this approachable beauty, the whole of Paris seems to be tarred with the same overtly romantic rose-tinted brush. This is a world in which there is no litter in Paris, neither is there graffiti. In which the homeless don't accept change on a Sunday because they don't work on the Lord's day. In which the owners of sex shops pray to saints in order to find the colleague's missing bag.
There is no seedy underbelly to Paris in Amelie. It is a happy, trusting place. It is odd to think that this was a major point of contention for some people. The lack of realism in the film proving enough for people to snub the film. Yet this is clearly a fantasy. It presents adult sensibilities (like death, jealousy, sex) in a childish innocent way, it celebrates love at first sight, it advocates the existence of ghosts. This film is a fairytale and the last thing I want is for my fairy tales to be like La Haine or *shudder* Irreversible.

All of this risks to make a very saccharine film, however it is all delivered with an oddly dry and dark sense of humour. Most of this is delivered by the excellent narration of André Dussollier. I have a love hate relationship with narration, most of the time I think it is a bit lazy, a cop out way of telling part of the story which should be conveyed through ACTING. However, when done well it is a brilliant tool.
Here it is done well, telling the full depth of Amelie's story - from the tragically comic back story (Amelie's mother being killed by a suicidal Quebecois jumping off a church and landing on her) to the little intricacies which help build up the audience's connection to Amelie's world (each character is introduced with a cutaway explaining their secret likes and dislikes).

The voice over helps to create this fairytale version of Paris and... like all true fairytales, at the heart of this story is a romance.
Amelie falls instantly with a man who collects discarded passport photos (Nino). It is here we see a new side to Amelie. For whilst she spends the majority of the film doing good things unto others, she can't seem to bring herself to give herself what she wants. Her plot to meet and woo Amelie becomes more and more convoluted, she introduces more and more steps into the process so that whenever you think the two are finally going to get together, she adds a new obstacle.
This is something that she is aware of. She speaks to people about it. Her every conversation with the Glass Man are about this very fact (although hidden by a medium of talking about a figure in the Renoir painting the Glass Man obsesses over). It isn't until the Glass Man goes out of his way to push Amelie into action that we finally get Amelie and Nino together rather than separated by the obstacles which Amelie deliberately creates for herself.

I'm so happy when the two characters finally got together. Partly because every single strand of the film (and there are many) is there to build up the characters. For most of the film you just want Amelie to be happy, but Nino's plot lines (the ghost in the passport photo machine) are so impressive that they build layers of depth into him. As Amelie gets more and more curious, so does the viewer.
So it is so rewarding to see them get together, it is also rewarding because Nino isn't the most attractive man in the world and Audrey Tautou is very pretty.

That ending relates to me.

It fills me with hope.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Royal Tenenbaum bought the house on Archer Avenue in the winter of his 35th year.

No 159 - The Royal Tenenbaums
Director - Wes Anderson

This is my favourite film. I really ruddy love it. I'm going to try and explain what it is about this film that I love so much and why I think it is a truly wondrous cinematic experience, both poignant and funny, and how it shoes a real human dynamic in a twisted version of the world.

I am very fond of Wes Anderson's directorial and story telling style, and I think the reason I hold this film in such high esteem is that it was the first of his films that I saw.

Wes Anderson's films share a visual style, they also share similar story elements (dysfunctional families and relationships, father issues). Therefore, once you have seen one of the films, you get an idea about what to expect in future films.
I once discussed this with my former flatmate Phil. His favourite Wes Anderson film was Rushmore, whilst mine is this one. However our reasons for liking the films were identical. We both liked our preferred films because they were the first Wes Anderson films we'd seen.

Let me try to explain what I love about this film. But please excuse my utterly biased opinion.
Firstly, I love the world which Wes Anderson has created. It is not a fantasy world but the film is a fantasy - by which I mean it is not based in our reality. This a world which is locked in a permanent 1970s. In which the taxi cabs are battered and held together with gaffa tape and in which lurid patterns and bright colours are the obvious choice for decorating with. The characters also fall into this subversion of real life. Too many of the characters in the film seem unreal. Their appearances border on cartoony (see Chas and his two identical children, or Margot with her wooden finger). However their stories are incredibly deep, their emotions complex. They might live in a subtle parody of humanity but these are deeply hurt, deeply flawed and deeply human personalities.

It is helped by the phenomenal cast. The film itself is told as if it was a book (narrated by the sumptuous tones of Mr Alec Baldwin), with a prologue and chapters and with an introduction to the cast before the film properly begins (as a 'list of characters'). The film mixes people who are Wes Anderson regulars (Owen and Luke Wilson, Bill Murray, Anjelica Huston) with excellent actors who are not from Wes Anderson's regular comic cast (Gene Hackman and Gwyneth Paltrow being the key examples).

Not only is the cast superb, but the film and characters seem to bring out the best in the actor's performances. Let me talk about some of the characters in this film.

Firstly, the comedy double act of Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson. I am a massive fan of Zoolander. It is so hot right now. The characters of Derek Zoolander and Hansel are career best roles for Stiller and Wilson. However Chas Tenenbaum and Eli Cash are close contenders. They play to the strengths of the actors in question, and are also the best examples of roles they have played so many times before.

Firstly, Eli Cash - A spaced out, drugged up semi hippy. His speech is full of 'woah' and his delivery is slow and laconic. Look at almost every role Owen Wilson has been cast in. This is a re-occurring series of traits, however they have never been done as well as Eli Cash. I think this is largely down to Owen Wilson co-writing the film and therefore knowing what works for him.

Secondly, Chas Tenenbaum - Stressed out, a ball of rage and fury. Sounds familiar? For the majority of the film I find Chas really annoying. In the same way that I find all of Ben Stiller's 'Angry Man' comedy annoying. However, where he is different is that Chas is a deeply disturbed and multi faceted character. He is dealing with the death of his wife (and subsequently seems to have both safety paranoia and survivors guilt), he is dealing with the feeling that his father doesn't like him and is jealous of the relationship between his father and his younger brother.

That is a big old melting pot of complex emotions, and Chas can't seem to handle or contain his emotions. He spends most of the film repressed, lashing out in occasional fits of rage and generally acting a bit like a childish cock.

However, he is a very important character. Whilst Richie Tenenbaum may have the most important story arc for the plot (more about him later), Chas Tenenbaum has the most important personal story arc. It is a touching series of scenes as we see Chas come to terms with his grief and his pain and finally his father.

The next character I want to talk about is Margot Tenenbaum. I quite like Gwyneth Paltrow, though she may not be the most remarkable of actresses - Saying that, Sliding Doors is a fabulously guilty pleasure of mine - but I all out LOVE Margot Tenenbaum. I have a bit of a crush for her. I don't know if it is the wonderful combo of tiny poloshirt style dresses and big fur coats (an outfit she has worn since birth it seems), the fact that she is such a grumpy bad ass, the promiscuous history she hides, the wooden finger. There are so many elements to her character that makes her fascinating and somewhat desirable.

I am not the only one that finds Margot appealing.

Eli is in love with her.

Eli seems to be a bit of a bootie call. However as he gets more wasted he tires of her and moves away. Specially when he realises who she loves.

Walter St Clair is in love with her

Walter is a genuinely tragic character. Margot's second husband knows that something is wrong and (rightly) suspects that Margot loves someone else. He endures the pain of having your love lock herself away, spending six hours a day in the bath. When Margot leaves to reside in the Tenenbaum household, Walter's hurt is clear on the hangdog face of depression that Bill Murray does so well.

Wes Anderson loves Bill Murray (after supporting roles in this and Rushmore, Anderson promised Murray the lead in his next film.) and this is clear in the film. Bill Murray's character may be a small role but it is an excellent performance gotten from a clearly devoted director.


Richie Tenenbaum loves Margot

This love affair is a pivotal part of the plot as it sparks off a lot of the key set pieces for the film. Not only does Richie love Margot, Margot loves Richie. However their relationship is somewhat hampered by the fact that
  • She is married
  • She is Richie's sister (adopted....)

Richie is horrifically depressed. His inability to handle his feelings. gives the film some of it's bleakest moments.

Firstly, the footage of a tennis game the day after Margot and Walter marry. He slowly has a breakdown, removing his shoes and one of his socks before sitting down on the court and bursting into tears.

Secondly, his attempted suicide. This is a naturally disturbing scene and is interestingly filmed completely differently from the rest of the film.
Horrified by hearing about the number of affairs and secrets Margot has hidden, Richie goes to the bathroom, cuts his hair, his beard, his wrists. Firstly the film breaks away from the rich colours and complex patterns which make up most of the film and offers only a stark blue light, giving the scene a cold and clinical feel. Secondly the scene is in fractured moments rather than a continuous narrative.
The pretentious part of me wants to say that the fractured structure matches the fractured nature of Richie's mind and it is true that after his suicide he becomes a lot more zen. However his attempted suicide leads me to the final (and in my opinion most depressing) part of the entire film.

Margot and Richie's resolution. The two sit in Richie's tent and discuss his suicide attempt. They declare their love for each other. They kiss. They hold each other. It is beautiful and poignant because the two can never publicly act on their feelings and are instead left with a depressing ultimatum.
I think we're just gonna to have to be secretly in love with each other and leave it at that, Ritchie.
The fact that the tent is in the ballroom, which houses Richie's art collection (a continuous shrine to Margot....) makes it all the more tragic,

After that little rundown of Richie's moments, it may be hard to believe that this is a comedy. Alternatively - the trailer sells the film as a lot more outright comedic than it is (however... they always struggle at marketing this type of thing). The film is a comedy but it is subtle and it finds comedy in the recesses and ridiculousness of tragedy. It isn't the easiest film to watch but by jove it is a stunning film.

So... they are the 'youth' of the Royal Tenenbaums. Let us look at the mighty Royal Tenenbaum and the sheer bastardness he displays.
Unexplained infidelities lead to the separation of Royal and his wife (though they never legally divorced). He then finds himself kicked out of his hotel. This is a tragic affair because it is a hotel populated by Flight of the Conchords minor roles!
Firstly the hotel manager (who kicks out Royal) is none other than the long suffering Greg (aka Frank Wood)!
Secondly, Dusty the lift operator is Seymour Cassel, who - as Johnny Boy - is the oldest member of the Tough Brets.

So, with no where to live, Royal fakes cancer (with Dusty posing as a Dr) and moves into the Tenenbaum home where he tries to refriend his children and destroy the blossoming (and really quite sweet) relationship between his wife and her new fiance, Heny Sherman. Poor Henry. Not only does he get embroiled in all the kerfuffle of this family reunion but he also has to face the passive aggressive racism from Royal.

Whilst the racism bit is obviously bad. Don't forget he is pretending to have CANCER in order to get a free roof over his head and a free meal. Royal is not a nice man (despite being a fantastically jovial bad influence on his grand kids).

All this changes when he isn't allowed to see Richie at hospital. His family have finally shut him out once and for all and he sees he has to change his ways.
Royal makes an attempt to be more kind and observant. Caring for Chas and his children and finally allowing a divorce so that Henry Sherman can marry his ex.
This kindness causes Chas to have his breakdown and allow the two to finally forgive and forget.

The film begins with the family all together but falling apart. Royal being the brash and blunt catalyst in the families bitterness and deterioration. However the film ends with everyone as reconciled as possible (some things, such as Richie and Margot's relationship are never reconciled fully) brought together as a family by Royal's death.

And the final shot is of Royal's wonderful epitaph.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

I mean, all the kids think I'm funny, and I don't wanna be. I wanna be normal, I wanna start to try me, a whole person, before it's too late for me

No 86 - Carrie
Director - Brian De Palma

I came into this expecting a horror. A horror film about a girl with telekinetic powers who goes insane and kills everyone. It is one of the few Stephen King novels I haven't read, and so I went into this film blind.

So - let me make one thing clear at the beginning. This is a horror film, in some senses of the word. But it isn't your conventional modern day horror. This is not a film about a monster, or a slasher - and whilst Carrie is high school girl driven to mass destruction, it isn't about an evil teenager with super powers killing everyone.

What makes this film really interesting, as a horror, is that the actual horror elements come from the cruelty of Carrie's class mates and the insanity of her mother. This is a behavioral horror. Not a conventional one.

The film follows Carrie, a quiet, naive girl who is bullied dreadfully and who has telekinetic powers. Think Matilda... only with no Mrs Honey influence and a massive tirade of vicious viscous hate.

My main confusion comes from the level and ferocity of the bullying within the school. It seems that the population of the school really truly hate Carrie. The reason they cite is that she is an outsider and strange. Whilst Carrie is an outsider, that doesn't explain the level of 'Carrie White Can Eat Shit' vehemence within the school.
The story begins with Carrie's gym class ganging up in complete ridicule in an utter overreaction to Carrie getting her period which (rightfully so) results in the group getting detention. The film is then about the gang planning their revenge for this detention.

It is the cruelest and most hard breaking set up. The group prepare for Carrie to experience the happiest moment of her life so they can crush it and publicly humiliate her. This is orchestrated by the genuinely evil Chris, played by Nancy Allen and her boyfriend. A wonderfully 1970s cameo from John Travolta.
In fact - the whole bitchy group of girls look massively 70s. Ridiculously so.... It is hard to think that Carrie can be alienated for being weird. She may have (quite massive) social interaction problems but she is one of the most normal looking people in the film.
She is bullied by a group that includes Norma - who NEVER removes her baseball cap. Even at the prom. And it is a stupid hat. Really stupid with little rainbows on it. Hardly tough girl clothes. There is also Helen who looks like Velma from Scooby Doo... (incidentally... I find it kind of strange just how attractive Velma from the movies is.... I think it is because of how attractive Linda Cardellini is).
So, seeing how bloody odd the 'normals' are, it seems very cruel to decide that Carrie should be treated so badly - and with such utter utter hatred.

Carrie's school bullying is exacerbated by the strict Christian fundamentalism of her mother who sees everything (including getting a period) as a sin that must be punished.
The idea of the dangers of fundamentalism is something that Stephen King is keen to talk about in his stories (again, look to The Mist for further proof) and Carrie's mother is a truly terrifying and horrific character.

Carrie's mother's main argument comes from the fact that Carrie gets invited to the prom by Tommy. Carrie's mother is worried that it is opening the door to all kinds of sin. But I was worried about something far worse. I was worried that Tommy was in on the horrific revenge 'prank' which was to take place at the prom.
Throughout the film it isn't clear whether he is with the schemers or acting independently. I spent the film hoping that he was acting independently because Tommy seems genuinely nice and brings out a shy loveliness in Carrie's character. Sissy Spacek (who I saw recently in the Straight Story and who was brilliant) plays with a naive excitement that is fantastic. But, horribly sad because you know that the prank is coming to ruin it all...

Luckily his surprise appears to be genuine when a bucket of pig's blood falls over Carrie and finally untaps the telekinetic rage which has been brewing for the entire film.
Everybody dies, with explosions and fire and electric shocks and lacerations. And some truly fantastic cinematography.
Go to here and watch the end bit of the video. There is amazing cinema as the blood drenched Carrie goes down the burning stairs - it feels like the culmination of all the hatred which Carrie has been victim to throughout the film.

There is also a wonderful bit of cinematography when Carrie's mother dies in exactly the same style (visually) as St Sebastian (who appears in scary statue form in Carrie's home). It seems to be an answer to Carrie's mother's dream - she is finally the martyr she wanted to be.

Wonderful shots and cinematography - but what do you expect from the director who gave us Phantom of the Paradise.

If you have a gun, shoot 'em in the head. That's a sure way to kill 'em. If you don't, get yourself a club or a torch. Beat 'em or burn 'em.

No 397 - Night of the Living Dead
Director - George A Romero

DISCLAIMER - Don't expect a stonkingly great blog today.... I'm VERY hungover.

So, after another weekend of shenanigans, I have set myself a challenge. Go out less. Stay in more. This means that I won't be such a financial deviant, I'll be able to afford to live and I'll have more time for this blogly challenge (which has somewhat fallen to the wayside in recent weeks).

I was joined by Mr Elliot Biddle, zombie aficionado, who decided to get me into the films of George A Romero. It is another (of the many) film series which I have some how failed to watch. So we sat down with tea and watched Night of the Living Dead.

The first thing that I find very odd in this film is the presentation of the Zombies. George A Romero set up a clear and concise set of rules for his Zombies - showing a gradual progression through Night - Dawn - Day and Land of the dead. Laws which I'd only ever really seen used in Shaun of the Dead, and rules which have sort of defined the Zombie genre (until the new ones started running).
However, despite these set ups - the Zombies in 'Night' seem a bit different.

I was always under the impression that Zombies were shambolic, dimwitted creatures. Slow in every sense of the word. Ambling around in an almost confused state as they deal with their primal urges post death. From what I understood, the Zombies develop over the films, gradually becoming more intelligent and more able to deal with their surroundings (by the time we get to Day of the Dead, there is a Zombie called Bub who has learnt basic functions like using a phone and reading...).
However, the very first Zombie we see seems incredibly resourceful for a newly deceased. Admittedly, he only uses one tool, rocks, but he seems to use that tool in a number of ingenious ways:
- Staving in headlights on cars
- Smashing up windows.
It makes the zombies more of an inimitable foe but less of the types which are seen in Dawn (and subsequently Shaun).
There are also some added rules which are then discarded for future films - namely the Zombie's fear of fire, which is used to great affect.

The film then follows a group of survivors who are shelled up in a small house in the middle of nowhere. Luckily they are in America - which means they have a shot gun to hand. Look at 28 Days Later as an example of how the British would react to Zombies. At least in America, every home has guns.
The film also plays with the human fears and paranoia of being trapped indoors. Barbra and Ben end up trapped in a building whilst Zombies attack. Ben seems to have had some kind of prior experience with the things however Barbra is in absolute shock for almost all the film (another element that is nicely homaged in Shaun).
The house also contains Tom, Judy and the Coopers, who are all cooped up in the Basement. The basement group adds a couple of excellent dynamics to the the film - firstly, the arguments between Tom and Ben. Ben wanting to fortify the house and defend it against zombies. Harry Cooper wanting to stay in the basement. Harry's self preservation streak is almost a larger threat to the group than the Zombies as he frequently traps or threatens other members of the group in order to defend his family.
Harry's family introduces the second dynamic. Harry's daughter Karen has been bitten and spends the majority of the film passed out on a bed in the basement. It is therefore only a matter of time before the little girl dies and devours her family in crazed Zombie stylie.

As well as introducing the now famous 'classic' Zombie to cinema, there are some other elements which night has become famous for.
Firstly - Ben, played by Duane Jones, was a very brave casting. The first black actor to play the leading role in a film in which the character's race is not a factor, or even mentioned. He is massively likable (despite the fact that there is hardly any time for character development) and very resourceful when it comes to capping Zombie ass.
Secondly, the final scene (which sadly I was aware of) is a massive shock and leads to one of the bleakest film endings ever (I would add it with the new Mist film) as Ben is shot and dragged out to be burnt with the rest of the invading Zombies by the police sheriff.
The fact that budgetary reasons meant that this final section is done with just still photographs (they had run out of film and couldn't afford anymore) adds to the stark finality of the scene, making it feel like a documentary or news footage.

Elliot believes that the initial trilogy improve with each film, so I'm keen to view Dawn of the Dead and see how this Zombie film progresses.

(The sad Fallout fan in me also loves how the Zombies are never referred to as such and are in fact referred to as Ghouls. Charon wouldn't be pleased)

Friday, 7 August 2009

Might as well go to mine. Everybody else does.

No 12 - The Apartment
Director - Billy Wilder

"The time has come," the Walrus said, "To talk of many things: Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax and why it has been so bloody long since a blog on this site". I apologise. I truly truly do.
My actual life has been a massive interruption to my cinematic lazings. However I have moved house and am ready to continue watching films in shiny new Putney surroundings.

The Apartment is the highest ranking comedy on the top 500 (if we don't count Singin' in the Rain) and is a good 15 places above Some Like it Hot - a film I had often assumed was the greatest comedy of all time - so I was keen to check it out. It also has the excellent comedy stock of both Mr Billy Wilder and Mr Jack Lemmon.
I was expecting something with the same crystal sharp delivery and pitch perfect wit of Some Like it Hot. I was wrong. This is a very different type of comedy.

It is also a comedy of two halves, as the film slowly turns into a beautiful rom-com with some really tragic moments. I'm saving my review of The Royal Tenembauns for a day where I feel I can write it in an unbiased way - however, I'm a big big fan of the tragi-comic and i loved this film.

The film follows C.C.Baxter who has a non-descript job in an insurance company. He also hires out his apartment as a venue for management to have their illicit affairs. By schmoozing this small group of executives, Baxter manages to work his way up the company with startling speed. Ending up the assistant director of the entire firm. However, it is here that the first of the film's morals appear.
The better Baxter is doing at work, the worse his social life and his free time. This is a film which shows the difficulties of having a decent work/life balance. Although - I think that this is not helped by the fact that Baxter is a bit of a wet blanket, bending over backwards to accommodate the executives to the detriment of his own health, happiness and sanity.

Where the film really kicks off is with the introduction of Fran Kubelik, played by the beautiful Shirley MacLaine. Her character is one of the lift operators for the firm and she is a feisty, out going and just wonderful person. It is clear why Baxter is in love with her. Every moment she spends on screen illuminates the film and makes it crackle with energy. The viewer (or at least me) falls for her instantly... making Baxter's plight all the more personal.

As you can see from the clip up there.... Fran has a man and sadly for Baxter she is seeing the (married) chief of the company. His boss, Jeff Sheldrake. Jeff is (naturally) one of the people that hires Baxter's apartment.
So, here is the set up for what could be quite a formulaic romantic comedy as Baxter tries to win Fran from Sheldrake. Except.... an hour into the film, Fran attempts to commit suicide. A large 30 minute chunk of the film is about Baxter caring for Fran in the days after her sleeping pill overdose (prompted (amongst other things) by her realisation of who's flat she is in). Baxter has just found out who Sheldrake's mystery woman is and is heartbroken as he cares for Fran... knowing that she loves someone else. The scenes are funny at times, but more so than that they're poignant, beautiful and really quite bleak.

The film also includes a scene where Baxter watches on, with a mix of worry and adoration, as his doctor neighbour forces Fran to vomit up the sleeping pills. A scene which probably was the influence for Almost Famous and which also shows just how edgy this film was for its time (I can't think of many films made in the late 50s that dealt with stomach pumps and drug overdoses). It also showcases some of the brutality of medicine at that time - best way to sort out an overdose? Slap the woman around and force her to drink coffee. Granted, I bet it works like a charm, it just seems quite savage.

The scenes post overdose also show the fragility of Fran's character, who goes from this bantering witty confident woman to a fragile broken shell, wrapped in Baxter's dressing gown. There are wonderful moments such as the game of gin where Baxter refuses to join into Fran's conversation. She is talking about the lack of hope and falling for the wrong men and he focuses all his attention in getting her to focus on the game. This is a beautiful piece of distraction, but also, the look on Baxter's face shows how upset and heartbroken he is... a masterful piece of acting from Lemmon.

You see - I still think Some Like it Hot is a funnier film. However, The Apartment is a much greater showcase for Lemmon's skills. As the film progresses Baxter seems bolder and braver. His final move (leaving the company because he refuses to continue letting his boss seduce Fran in the apartment) is also the point where everything seems to start going well for them.

It is of course inevitable that Fran and Baxter get together and the journey that they share throughout the film meant I was really really happy when that inevitable moment happened. What I like is the intelligent way that it is all implied. The pair never kiss, never share any 'obvious' cinema affection, however it is evident that here is a couple who love each other utterly. The film is also a smart and unpredictable Romantic Comedy.
There was a fantastic blog on empireonline about how Rom-Coms these days have become far too formulaic. For some reason it was removed from the site, but it shows everything that this film isn't.
There is no hackneyed argument crowbarred in to make the couple split up, instead Fran moves from being the object of Baxter's affection, to someone who he definitely can't be with. This is a much more realistic progression and something that every person has experienced.
However as he is forced into a situation where he has to spend more time with Fran, the bond between them grows and Baxter's affections are no longer unrequited.

The moment of realisation as Fran runs to Baxter's apartment (without the dreadful fake suspense of a 'dash to the airport' which seems to be pre-requisite in all romantic comedies) is not a 'will they won't they' moment but an 'At last - she has seen sense' moment. And whilst I'm all for the occasional bit of drinking alone. I think come New Years Eve, Baxter would rather share his champagne with a beautiful lady.

The final thing I want to talk about is the final line. I don't know if it is a theme amongst Billy wilder comedies (I've only seen 2) but I've always loved the final line of Some Like it Hot (Nobodies Perfect) - it is throwaway and flippant and yet seems to encapsulate the exact emotion of the film.
In this, he manages the same thing. Baxter tells Fran he loves her and Fran replies with "Shut up and Deal".

Just a wonderful wonderful finish to a beautiful little film