Thursday, 28 January 2010

Do you find us beautiful, magical? Our white skin, our fierce eyes? "Drink" you ask me, do you have any idea of the thing you will become?

No 281 - Interview with the Vampire
Director - Neil Jordan

I like the way the cinematic vampires are varied beasts. The punks of The Lost Boys are nothing compared to the monsters of From Dusk Till Dawn. There are the strange bat like Nosferatu or the incredibly human Eli. Even Dracula himself has flitted through different versions and completely different styles.
There is no definitive vampire, but I find them fascinating - for me, the most fascinating is the Anne Rice vampire. I love the passion, the glamour and he danger of her vampires. It has been said time and time again that the Vampire story is a thinly veiled allegory for sex. Nowhere is that more evident than in Interview with the Vampire.

The vampires in this film are beautiful creatures that bristle with a dangerous sexual lust. Their skin is white and smooth and their eyes are fierce and unnatural. Almost feline. Maybe it plays to the part of me which yearns to be a dandy, but they are just fabulous. If I were to create a vampire myth, that is the direction I'd have taken.
Our protagonist for this story is Brad Pitt's Louis de Pointe du Lac, a plantation owner from New Orleans who develops one hell of a death wish and who is turned into a vampire by Tom Cruise's Lestat de Lioncourt. We then follow Louis' story as he becomes used to being a vampire and as he lives out a life of endless youth.

Louis is our 'in' to the vampiric world. He is the character that we follow, he is the character that we see as both mortal and immortal, he is our narrator. However he is not the most interesting of characters. Despite having been a vampire for almost 200 years (by the time we meet him in the early 90's) he is not happy with his lot. He doesn't feel comfortable killing people and frequently complains.
No, the most interesting and fun characters are those that relish in the bloodshed. Those that are truly callous and wicked. That is why I love Lestat so much. His character is a lavish and decadent evil. A man who has embraced his demonic blessing and ran with it. He cackles maniacally as people attack him. He flits and he flys, he maims an he kills but always with a smile and an appreciation of the finer things in life.
Lestat killed two, sometimes three a night. A fresh young girl, that was his favorite for the first of the evening. For seconds, he preferred a gilded beautiful youth. But the snob in him loved to hunt in society, and the blood of the aristocrat thrilled him best of all.

Though, what I think I like best about Lestat is that it is Tom Cruise. I can only think of 3 films where Cruise has been an obvious good guy and one he was an arrogant prick that eventually mellow and the second is a comedy cameo. This is the only film (that I can think of) where Cruise is all out malicious, manipulative and horrible. He seems to relish it as well. Each sneer, each giggle, each time he spikes a wrist to drink the blood is met with a look of sheer enjoyment. Hell, the brief ominous sinister moments which he shares with (the beautiful beautiful) Thandie Newton's slave girl have more chemistry then their ENTIRE relationship in MI2.

It is with Lestat that we also see one of the films most striking features, the sexualisation of everything. It seems that blood is more than mere food for the vampires. It is a passion, a yearning, a physical torturous desire. Any exposed area of flesh becomes fetishised by the film. So we get long lingering shots of the rise and fall of a heaving bosom, or the curve of a neck, or a delicate exposed wrist. The sexualisation is continued with the kill, as it nearly always begins with a playful seduction. By the time the vampires are feeding it looks more like they are locked in a passionate and highly sensual embrace. Nearly everything in this film is somewhere on the sexual spectrum. It is either flirty and mischievous or dangerously erotic.

However, anything that the two men do is easily overshadowed by Claudia. A vampire taken as a child. Therefore with the immortal, never changing body of a child but with the mind of an adult killer. It must be tough being Kirsten Dunst, knowing that you played your greatest role aged 11. She is phenomenal in this. I was 9 when this film came out so I don't know of the controversy, or even if there was any, however the idea of a child being so cruel, so sensual, so wicked is a bit uncomfortable.
She isn't a young vampire like Eli, who is much more sage, practical and world-weary. She relishes in the carnage. She makes me think of the few clips I've seen of Chloe Moretz in the upcoming Kick Ass.

Claudia's defining moment is when she realises she will never become a woman. That she is doomed to be a child forever. Here you see the oddest part of the vampire curse. Their bodies will stay the way they are forever. You can't even cut your hair, as it will instantly grow back. Her attempt to rebel against this involves 'killing' Lestat and fleeing - and this is where the film changes completely. It takes a step back from the fripperies and opulence that I so adore and becomes something a bit darker.
I always thought this movie was really long (it isn't, it is under 2 hours) but I think that stems from the fact that is changes, into a second film when they arrive in Paris and meet Antonio Banderas' Armand.
- Before I speak about the next bit, I just want to say that if you take Armand, and trickle in a splash of Zorro you have all the evidence you need to prove that Banderas would make an EXCELLENT Gomez Addams (much fucking better than Tim Curry).

Armand's show - Theatre Des Vampires is fabulous both in its post modernism (vampires pretending to be people pretending to be vampires) but also in how brazen it is as the show's grand finale is the killing of a woman live on stage - which, I assume, everyone thinks is part of the act.
The entire Theatre Des Vampires troupe are just dark. Far more feral and violent (and at times insane) than the refined Lestat, Louis and Claudia. It is here that a lot more dark and savage stuff happens which truly and deeply affects Louis and leaves him hollow and empty for the final parts of the film. Though the montage of cinematic sunrises, and the way the effect Louis as he goes to see them (having not seen a sunrise in decades, if not centuries) is beautiful and brings us up to date.

And then it ends.
This film doesn't really have a conclusion as Louis' story is in no way concluded. It has just reached modern day. He will continue and his story will continue.

We just leave, much like Christian Slater's interviewer, fascinated, transfixed and scared. Lucky to have met such wonderful and dangerous characters. However briefly.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Do you not then hear this horrible scream all around you that people usually call silence.

No 428 - Jeder für sich und Gott Gegen Alle (The Enigma of Kasper Hauser)
Director - Werner Herzog

The film begins with a brief piece of scrolling text telling us the story of the film. A figure appears in a village, he can't speak, write or read but over time he manages to tell them that his name is Kasper.
This is also the plot to the film as we follow Kasper's progress over several years and as he develops in his skills.

The people of the village become fascinated by him. They watch him continuously and the speak about him behind his back, desperate to know more about him. When he initially arrives, Kasper can barely walk. He is just standing there in the middle of town, clutching a note. He doesn't move for hours. He is eventually sent to the captain of the guards to deal with. However, during this time people are fascinated. At the same time, they don't trust him. He is just too odd and has filled them with questions. Is he real? Is he an act? Is he perhaps a spy? Where does he come from? How come he is so simple?
These are the questions that drive the characters of this film. They obsess over him, trying to qualify him with tests and experiments. But they are questions that the film itself ignores.

The film is more interested in how Kasper feels as he goes through this learning process. It is whilst adopted by a rich old man that he makes the most progress, and this is what the film dwells on. Kasper's attempts to understand life and find reason and meaning.
For this reason, any scene without Kasper in (and they are few and far between) lose the magic which the film has. This film hangs on the superb performance by Bruno S, his intense delivery of every line and the complete concentration on his face as he talks is a joy to behold. Really, it is difficult to try and write an explanation about why this film is good to watch. It is entirely down to the nuances of Bruno S' performance and the fabulous writing of Kasper's literal viewpoints.

Kasper's mind has trouble with abstract ideas of any kind. If an apple rolls away it has run off because it doesn't want to be eaten. If he turns his back on a tower it has vanished. Yet the people of the town wish to push logic questions onto him or push theological ideas onto him. They then get frustrated when Kasper doesn't understand the concept of God or when he defies the professor with an illogical answer to a purely logical question. His ideas are beautifully, naively, literal and the film relishes in following Kasper as he makes the discoveries which help develop his ideas.

When the film begins, we begin with a grunting slumped Kasper in a cell loudly chewing on bread. I thought it was going to be a horrible film. A difficult film to watch. However Kasper's development is a joy and the film highlights that joy. Which, considering none of the characters in the film highlight the joy, is an impressive feat.

Of course, the second that Kasper dies his brain is cut up so that the doctors and weird goblinny report writing man can record a reason for his behaviour. They find one. Something to do with over developed lobes and under developed hemispheres. But really, the viewer doesn't care about why. They just care about the life that was led.

A life which amazingly, seems to be true.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

I know now why you cry. But it's something I can never do.

No 35 - Terminator 2: Judgement Day
Director - James Cameron

Who can remember August 28th 1997? I certainly do. I had recently returned from a holiday in Spain and had turned 13. Then nuclear bombs fell, we all caught on fire, crumpled and burnt and got blown away as dust in the wind.

Of course we didn't really!!! But that is what we are warned by Terminator 2 (or T2 as the cool kids call it). This time it is more about the approach to Judgement Day and builds on the relentless killer of the 1st film.
For reasons that I don't understand, the baddy robots send a second terminator to eliminate John Connor aged 13. If I was in charge of the time travelling part of the Cyberdine plan - I would have sent the second terminator to attack just after Sarah Connor had crushed the first. Kyle would be dead, she would be exhausted and broken. There wouldn't be a fight.

Clearly I am far more of an evil genius than any of the robots, either that or there is some other weird rule I don't understand about time travel because for some reason the second Terminator is sent 14 years later to kill young John Connor. The humans cotton on to this and manage to send a reprogrammed model 101. The Arnie model.
Ladies and Gentlemen he is back, but this time he is a goody. Also... in his first scene with young John Connor (the ever-excellent Edward Furlong. Star of my youthful guilty pleasure, Detroit Rock City) he says more than he said in the entire first film. This is a massive weakness for the character, who is far better as a silent but deadly Juggernaut, but is a huge boon for Arnie, who is actually very funny, or at least seems to be in this film. Even if he has only shown this in ridiculous one liners or really shit comedies.

Much like the first, the real stars of this movie are the titular Terminators. Therefore I will talk about everything first and then concentrate on them.
Firstly Sarah Connor. Kyle says that Sarah would train John Connor up to be a great leader. However, you look at her in the first film and you can't see it. Terminator 2 brings a completely different character. She has had years of back story between the two films. Years which are only vaguely touched upon during the story. Those years are spent turning her into a fighter and turning her son into a fighter.
The Sarah Connor of Terminator 2 is no longer a scared and confused passenger. She is a warrior. As relentless and determined as the Terminators themselves. She also has (fairly understandable) issues with being on the same team as the Model 101, considering their shared past.

Sarah discovers that by crushing the original Terminator, she left the CPU and an arm in tact. These are discovered by a Dr Miles Dyson who uses them to aid his research in AI (a logical step from those freaky airblade hand dryers). Ironically, by defeating the Terminator, Sarah Connor has become the catalyst for their creation.
Therefore, Sarah goes off to destroy the early Cyberdine laboratories. She is joined by her son - Edward Furlong is brilliant in this role - and with a 'tame' Model 101 who is learning to be more human.

However the robots have sent an upgrade to defeat this team. To stop them from destroying Cyberdine and subsequently ruining the robot uprising. The T1000.
The T1000 looks awesome and is a formidable foe. Mainly because, he is everything Arnie's Model 101 isn't.
Robert Patrick is quite buff, but he is slim and wiry compared to the force of nature that is Arnie. Instead, his villain is agile, persistent, nimble and quick. He is as deadly and ruthless as the original killer but he is a lot more chatty. This gives him a big advantage, he is oh so charismatic. He is also a truly amazing use of CGI. Even in modern times it is difficult to make a liquid silver person look realistic. But to think this was one of the first CGI jobs done in films, the effects are remarkable. a lot of it would hold court on TV nowadays. Easily. They must have spent a shit load on him.
He is a remarkable baddy. He is however RIDDLED with flaws.

The T1000 is made of liquid metal which can shape shift into nearly anything (including colours and patterns - but I'm willing to overlook that).
HOWEVER - In order to go through the time travel machine you have to be made of organic matter. That is one of the main reasons the original Terminator is covered in flesh. It is an important plot point of the 1st film, it isn't something you can easily gloss over in part 2. But gloss over they do. For the T1000 is ENTIRELY liquid metal, he can change shape and form including the look of his skin. He isn't flesh with a molten core. He is a shape shifting fully metallic figure.
Not only does that make it very difficult to put a power supply and processor chips (both things we know the Terminator has... hell, the model 101 has 2 power supplies) but it also means that he shouldn't have been able to get here.

Also, how hot must he get if he is supposed to be made of LIQUID METAL? Or, inversely, how cold must he get if he is made of mercury or something.

Despite his flaws, the flowing agile nature of the T1000 makes him the perfect combatant. He is really very cool. He is also a very easy effective fancy dress outfit. Just wear blue and cover yourself in those foil pie dishes, like my friend Chris.

Whilst this film may have a few flaws (I have one more huge one to discuss) it is structurally very similar to the first. Sarah Connor is being chased by a relentless killer. She is joined by another figure from the future who has trouble with his emotions. Whereas in the first film it is resolved through sex, here it is resolved through a bit of central reprogramming and learning how to be hip and cool like an early 90's kid. The future companion even says "Come with me if you want to live"! (I like to think that this is deliberate. A code word used by John Connor to trigger memories of Kyle and memories of safety. Unlike T3, I don't think the films had started taking the piss out of themselves just yet).
There are a number of shoot outs. It results in a tanker destroying and ALMOST killing the Terminator, only for the figure to rise again as a glitching mechanical abomination. It then has to be destroyed again.

With the T1000 destroyed, the nice 101 has to kill himself too. Here is one of the few cinematic scenes which made Elliot Biddle cry (that and the death of Optimus Prime in the Transformers cartoon). The Terminator is more rounded. Less of a one dimensional force of evil. He is now a person.

So the T1000 is destroyed right. The evidence of the robots are destroyed. Cyberdine is destroyed. Surely there is only one logical ending to this film.
John Connor.
John Connor is born from the sexytimes of Sarah Connor and Kyle Reece.
Kyle is brought back from the future to defend Sarah.
This is because there is a war on.
By destroying Cyberdine there is no Skynet and thusly no war.
If there is no war, there is no need for Kyle Reece to go back

ERGO! T2 should have ended with John Connor fading away like in Back to the Future.

Fuck you, asshole

No 308 - The Terminator
Director - James Cameron

What I love about this film is that it is so simple. Couple are on the run from an unstoppable killing machine. They can run and they can hide, but eventually it will catch up with them. If we dismiss the wibbly wobbly time travel stuff and temperarily ignore the future war element, what we have is a good old game of cat and mouse. But what a cat, what a freaking awesome cat.

The Cyberdine Model 101 Terminator is, in my opinion, Arnie's greatest role. It plays to his strengths in that really he doesn't have to do much except stomp around, kill people and be intimidating. Arnie can do all of these things with ease and his character is terrifying for it. Whilst it might not make a lot of sense for a robot to speak with an Austrian accent, Arnie's stilted delivery and awkward movements are perfect for the jerky artificial robot he portrays and he looks fake. He just doesn't look real. It took me ages (surprisingly ages) to figure out why... The eyebrows, he aint got none. He is just perfect otherworldly freaky deaky casting. The accent isn't even that much of a problem as I reckon The Terminator probably says about 17 lines throughout the film.
Model 101 is not a very chatty beast. He prepares to silently shoot and smash stuff until the job is done. Though, saying that his occasional lines are totally iconic. None more than "I'll be back". According to Mr Doc, this line is actually fluffed and that the script initially said "I'll come back." It just goes to show how easy it is to create accidental moments of great genius.

Really, the human characters don't have much of a chance against the Robot enemy. Both in terms of their actual struggle for survival, but also in their struggle for being interesting. Sarah Connor is not the hardened fighter of T2. She is a confused young woman, scared and thrown utterly out of her comfort zone. She doesn't have much of interest going for her, not even the 80's kitch rubbishness of her housemate Nancy who just spends the film dressed in the most 80's clothes imaginable and dancing to the most 80s electro imaginable. Good old The 80s.
Kyle, meanwhile has an interesting story. The twisty turny way that time travel works means that at least his story is interesting. It is just that he... isn't....
Even in the flashbacks (flashforwards...) showing the war against the machines, Kyle comes off as a pretty bland character. Just a pretty bland character firing lasers at giant robots (which always makes people look cooler than they are).

What is impressive though is how long they manage to stave off the Terminator. Despite being up against an unstoppable beast and despite having to face death destruction, insanity (Earl Boen's Dr Silberman is the only human character to appear in all three Terminator films (viewing Salvation as a different franchise)) and the entire ruddy police force.
They escape the Terminator and even seem to kill him by exploding a tanker. ONLY THEY DON'T as the metal endo skeletons emerges from the flames.

If you thought Arnie was awesome in this film (and I do) then he has nothing on the stop motion skeleton. Firstly the robot looks really freaky, but mostly The Terminator is scary because of his dogged persistance.
This is the same when he is a Schwarzeneggar or a stop motion animation, it is just that as an endo skeleton, that perserverence is more visible. Where Arnie might be able to scalpel out his eyes or cut into his arm in order to keep going (the 80's prosthetics are a bit naff), here we have the robot torso dragging itself along the floor by its one functioning arm.

You can blow that robot up to absolute shit and it will still come and get you.

That is the most worrying part of the film.

Monday, 25 January 2010

I'd hate to take a bite outta you. You're a cookie full of arsenic.

No 314 - Sweet Smell of Success
Director - Alexander Mackendrick.

Don't be fooled by the jolly sounding title or the casting of Tony Curtis. This is a dark and angry film. Bleak and treacherous and cruel. This is also one of those more unusual things. A film which isn't about the protagonist. Curtis' Sidney might be the character we follow for the entire film, but he is just an outsider in the main plot.

Sidney plays a press agent. A sneaky, slimy, cowardly man who will double cross anyone and everyone in order to make some money. Throughout the film he shows that he really has no morals at all.
The film flies along at quite a breakneck speed and only stops briefly when introducing non pivotal characters. However the small amount of time the story spends on Rita shows us a fair amount about her character. She is pretty (in that wonderful 50's blonde bombshell way) but not too bright. She has a child and has recently been hurt pretty badly because of the fact that drinking makes her get a bit promiscuous. She is quite upset when she begins speaking to Sidney but he runs off, busy trying to manipulate people and make a quick buck. His return is solely to pimp her out to a newspaper columnist in order to better his self preservation.

He is a schmoozer and a sweet talker. But he is a callous and horrible person. He is indeed, a cookie full of arsenic.

The only way that Sidney can come off looking less horrible is when compared with his 'friend' J.J Hunsecker. J.J is a columnist who is massively influential. He allegedly has 60million readers and he can make or break stars and governments. It seems that nothing is outside of his grasp, and that has very much gone to his egocentric, paranoid head.
For whilst he can control the comings and goings of America, he can't stop his sister Susan falling in love with a Jazz guitarist (the jazz music throughout is excellent). But he will stop at nothing to sabotage the relationship and claim her back as his sister. His female companion.

This is the crux of the film. Sidney, a horrible cowardly liar, runs around after the whims of J.J, a REALLY horrible, wannabe mobster, in order to break up the coupling of the only two likable characters in this whole sorry film.
It seems odd to create a film where the characters are so unlikable. They're not even given extra dimensions. I can understand both Sidney and J.J's motivations, but I don't like them. At all. I had no one really to root for because it becomes evident that Sidney and J.J will succeed with their mission. Though really we're never 100% sure if Sally returns to him or not.

The ending sort of resolves this as both Sidney and J.J get their just desserts (though Sidney's punishment is far publicly harsher than J.J's personal heartache) and the film ends on a hell of a downer.

All in all, it was not what I was expecting at all and I'm not entirely sure if I'd ever watch it again. It is a wonderfully stylistic film of the period, but the protagonists are just bastards - and not in a fun way.

I think that, uh, little story has considerable significance; but I've, uh, I've forgotten what it is.

No 302 - The Best Years of our Life
Director - William Wyler

This film took me two attempts to watch, two very different attempts in that the first time I struggled watching this film about 3 returning veterans of WWII, however the second time I found myself engrossed in the characters and relationships. It is a very syrupy film, but it was made straight after the war, so you can kind of forgive it.

The film follow 3 veterans as they get home and try to pick up their lives from where they left off. It also shows how institutionalised some people had got, how they had found comfort in the skills and routines of the war and how by going home they're cast adrift.
The war was a terrible terrible thing. But for a lot of people, their experience of the war isn't dominated by the bombs and the killing. It is about the camaraderie, the drinking, the adventure, the people and the sense of purpose. You see this sense of purpose mostly with Fred who returns a Captain but who has no qualifications for the real world and therefore has to go back behind the soda fountain.
This seems to be a very real thing, certainly when I speak to my Grandfather he gets nostalgic over the war ad he has hundreds of anecdotes he could tell you about the great times he spent as a marine. Only once in the 24 years I've known him has he spoken about fighting and that was just telling me which beach landings he had done. For him, in retrospect, the war was more about the sense of camaraderie and getting up to antics then it was about the horrors of battle. Though it is never said, I would not be surprised to know that for all the happiness that happens post war, for all the relief of returning home, the title refers to the war years. After all it seems none of the three protagonists are comfortable in returning home - Fred has lost all connection with his wife whilst Al is struggling to return to the normality of family life as a banker. Homer has the biggest struggle, but I want to focus on Fred and Al's stories first then give Homer's arc the space it deserves. Their first night back they try to spend a normal evening with their respective families and fail, finding themselves in the bars and dancing and laughing with each other until late into the night.
It is here Fred meets Peggy, Al's daughter. They very much fall in love and Fred has a bit of a choice. Should he face the scandal of leaving his wife or should he just suppress his feelings for Peggy.
Al's relationship with his wife is lovely, the number of times where Al seemingly re-remembers that he is home for ever and passionately grabs his wife in an embrace are many throughout the film. They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder and here is evidence that 2 or 3 years away at war will certain re-ignite the flames of passion in a marriage.

However, besides all the emphasis on Fred and Peggy's will they/won't they relationship, the real important story is of Homer, played by Harold Russell. Russell lost his hands in the war during an explosives training accident and was left with two hooks. Samuel Goldwyn (of MGM fame) saw this and had the part of Noah specifically rewritten for him. For that reason, the role is incredibly humbling. Russell is incredibly adept with his hooks. He is able to light cigarettes, drink, write - there is very little that he can't do. However, he is returning to a fiance and he has lost all of his confidence. To quote Al: They (The Navy) couldn't train him to put his arms around his girl, or to stroke her hair.
Homer spends most of the film in a bit of a dejected mood. He regularly hides to his uncle Butch's bar where he is having piano lessons (not a joke, at one point Homer and Butch play a duet together) however over time Wilma finally manages to prove to him that sh does still love him.
They're relationship is the sweetest, once Homer removes his hooks he is completely helpless, and for that reason he hates himself. It is clear throughout the film that he doesn't want to be dependant on people and he believes that no one will want the burden of having to care for him. So when - FINALLY - Wilma convinces him otherwise, it is lovely to see.

Edit - I forgot to add.... Russell is the only person to win two Oscars for the same role. Not only did he win best actor but he won a second honorary one because of the hope he had given in showing what is possible even after losing your limbs.
Man is a bit awesome. Kudos to him.

Of course the film has a big schmaltzy happy ending. Of course the entire film is sweet with nary a hard angle to it (despite talk of affairs, home wrecking, war injuries, fisticuffs and Al's hilarious tendency to get hammered all the time the film really is soft and harmless) but it is a wonderful study of three characters and how the settle back to the real world.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

What we were after now was the old surprise visit. That was a real kick and good for laughs and lashings of the old ultraviolent.

No 37 - A Clockwork Orange
Director - Stanley Kubrick

It took me years before I realised that my first experience with this controversial masterpiece was through the introduction of Conker's Bad Fur Day. Which lifts the introduction to A Clockwork Orange perfectly. Even in my youth I knew it was a parody. I just didn't know what of...

The important thing about this film is not to focus on the rape and the death and the violence. Whilst they are all there, in quantity, the film is far richer than that. The world is far richer than that and the story is far more bleak.

The film is set in a strange future, or maybe an alternate present. The clothes are all a bit strange and the in house design is all a bit weird. We see this mostly with Alex (our protagonist)'s parents an his home. There are clashing colours and retro-futuristic furniture. Think Barbarella. That is the style of Alex's home.

You can hear the other worldliness in the way that the characters speak. This is (for me) the film's real joy. Alex, and his gang of Droogs, speak in a delightful way. Through intonation, sentence structure, antiquated language and made up words, each sentence becomes a bizarre delight. I'd love to read the book because seeing the dialogue written down just makes me smile:
There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar trying to make up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening. The Korova milkbar sold milk-plus, milk plus vellocet or synthemesc or drencrom, which is what we were drinking. This would sharpen you up and make you ready for a bit of the old ultra-violence.

The final sign of the parallel world is with the extreme violence. The gangs of hoodlums which cause fear to all and sundry. Whilst it is graphically depicted (The rapes more so than the violence) it is the joy and the excitement on the faces of Alex and his men which truly shocks. Seeing how they relish in causing pain in others is far more scary than merely seeing the pain be inflicted.

The film follows Alex, leader of an ultraviolent gang. We see him in his happier times. He is vicious, he is violent, he is a rapist but also a romancer of women, he wears impeccable outfits (when out of his iconic - and Halloween staple - Droog uniform) and he loves the work of Ludvig Van Beethoven.
He is a horrible thug. Certainly charismatic but bristling with rage and violence and hate. He is not a likable protagonist.

However, throughout the film there are three key events which seriously affect Alex. This is what I want to focus on because Alex's journey is what makes this film so remarkable.

1) In order to listen to a lady singing one of Beethoven's operas, he silences his Droogs with a whack of a cane.
This is important because it means that the Droogs aren't happy. Time and time again they trick him and punish him. Every dangerous place Alex ends up in (Prison, Frank's house the second time) is directly after some sort of punishment or revenge from his Droogs.
To be a good leader, you have to keep your men happy.

2) He sings during his attack on Frank Alexander.
The attack on Frank Alexander is particularly savage. He cuts Frank's wife's clothes off and rapes her stopping only to repeatedly kick Frank with his heavy boots. Throughout this attack he wisely hides his face behind a mask. Yet he sings. In his joy he sings Singing in the Rain. If you are to do this.... don't then sing it in the bath 2 years later when seeking refuge in the same man's house...

I will mention the third point shortly, because the turning point of this film is when Alex, tired of being in jail, undergoes radical aversion therapy, and the third point is tied into that. For me the scenes of the aversion therapy (or torture) are almost as horrific as seeing Alex relish in the pain he causes. Really dark scenes of him being forced to watch graphic images whilst being poisoned. So that any thoughts of anger or violence or lust would trigger the same sick poisoned feel.
Not only is Alex unable to attack, he is unable to defend himself. He leaves prison weak. But he also leaves with a personally heartbreaking disability

3) The Music used in the torture videos.
Sadly - As well as feeling sick whenever he wants to fight or rape... he also feels ill when he hears Ludwig Van's Glorious 9th.

  • Finally freed from prison, Alex suffers the worst day in the history of the world.
  • He is kicked out of his home as his parents now have a lodger
  • He meets a homeless man he once tortured and is subsequently attacked
  • Somehow SOMEHOW (seriously... how?!) His Droogs have become policemen. They torture him.
  • He ends up back at Frank Alexander's house and (STUPIDLY) sings Singing in the Rain.
  • He is driven to suicide for both Frank's Revenge but also in an attempt to belittle the government

What is amazing is that this series of events made me sympathise for Alex. It is not fair that he should suffer so much cruelty. Yet, he is a horrible human being. The only reason he isn't out attacking and raping is that he physically can't.

That is the film's true strength, that you can follow a truly unlikable character and come out rooting for him. It shows Kubrick's skill as a film maker and also Malcolm McDowell's skill in performing the role of Alex. Of course you are punished for the trust in the final moments. Alex's wicked smile creeps over his face and the final line which is both a triumphant cry and a chilling warning to the rest of the world.

I was cured, all right!

Sunday, 17 January 2010

The key is, to not think of death as an end, but as more of a very effective way to cut down on your expenses

No 301 - Love and Death
Director - Woody Allen

I humbly apologise - I saw the this film (and indeed Clockwork Orange) ages ago and haven't had the time to write up my blogs. A few days have passed so these may be briefer and far more rambly blogs (as the film isn't completely fresh in my mind - I've watched an entire series of Glee)

I don't know much about Woody Allen's back canon of work, although I feel I have been saying that about a lot of directors, maybe I'm not as much of a geek as I thought I was. I did know that his work was about the neurotic New York schtick in the city of New York. I did not expect a period piece about the Russians planning to assassinate Napoleon. And yet, throughout this Allen plays the same role, the neurotic, Jewish, New Yorker and somehow it works. In fact, throughout the period drama, Allen litters it with 70's Americana such as the Jive Talking Black Cliche Drill Sergent in the Russian Army. The deliberate anachronisms have been used in other period films, and when handled well it works as a funny aside or irreverent aside, however it could shatter the world of the film. Here they are handled exceedingly well and it is just part of Allen's weird little period world he has built.

It is not just the world that is a bit strange, the whole film borders on the absurd. Especially the levels of comedy which flit throughout.
The scenes of war are shown either as a scary place full of explosions or as an opportunity for Allen to try out some slapstick humour. See him be shot out of cannons as he tries to hide, see his farcical assassination attempts. It is almost reminiscent of the stunts and acts that the classic silent comedians would try.
Yet here it is effortlessly mixed with wordy discussions on morality (Judgment of any system, or a priori relationship or phenomenon exists in an irrational, or metaphysical, or at least epistemological contradiction to an abstract empirical concept such as being, or to be, or to occur in the thing itself, or of the thing itself. ) which are ridiculous in both their sincerity and the fact that they seem to emerge from nowhere, and highbrow film pastiches (I spotted several Battleship Potemkin references and the end sequence where Woody dances with death in a tiny procession directly mimics the Seventh Seal - I wouldn't be surprised to learn there are more).

However, the real comedy, just comes from Woody Allen's delivery and from his nervous rambling monologues and voice overs. The film itself is a treat. It is wonderful to listen to Allen's story telling, and the bizarre way he manages to seduce incredibly pretty ladies (here both Diane Keaton (Allen's most famous muse, I believe) and Olga Georges-Picot) - I imagine it is through his excellent anecdotal skills.
The story may be bonkers, the setting may be unbelievable and the characters my weird sex obsessed caricatures but Woody Allen's story telling just makes it a lovely thing to watch.

And it is made all the better by ending with a cameo from none other than Jessica Harper - My favourite 70's actress.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Trees and people used to be good friends. I saw that tree and decided to buy the house.

No 275 - Tonari No Totoro (My Neighbour Totoro)
Director - Hayao Miyazaki

How can you fail to like a film that has such infectiously happy title music. (I love the awful awful literal film description in the translated lyrics....). In that clip you will also see the wide grinning face of another genius aspect of the film, but I will touch on THAT later.

This is a film about a family who move next door to a forest spirit. The two little girls in the family then go and have a series of adventures. It sounds like a really childish plot, and it is, but Studio Ghibli can take a simple premise and make it into such a rich experience. This is quite possibly my favourite cartoon ever. Watching it makes me feel so full of joy and full of excitement, it instills childish emotions into adults - which makes it a powerful cartoon.

The film also benefits from the amazing characters. I find Ghibli fascinating because it embraces the ancient mysticism and spirituality of Japan. They create rich stories that are woven in with the myths of their culture. I kind of like a story where ghosts, gremlins, spirits and Gods are just taken to be the norm. However, where Spirited Away expanded it to a phenomenal scope, creating a brief visit to an overwhelming world, here Ghibli lead you through it gently. We only get one spirit and 2 or 3 additional mystical creatures. It means we can still relate to the world a lot more easily. Which is important considering the all out bonkersness of the characters in this film.
Totoro is a giant forest spirit. He looks a bit like a big blue rabbit(ish) and he has a mouth that is roughly the size of his entire head. He could be terrifying as a concept. But he isn't, he is kind and funny and docile. I love that he just seems completely unbothered by what is going on through out the entire film. He is just there.
He is constantly joined by two smaller creatures (Smaller Totoros I presume) who may be children or servants. The middle one certainly looks like a scaled down version of Totoro whilst the smallest is just a white blob with eyes. There is a wonderful subtle silent comedy in the performances of the two small Totoro. Lacking the confidence and size of their larger brethren they seem to sneak around a lot trying desperately to remain unseen and failing, leaving them in a panicky bumbling rush. Bumbling spirits are funny, and a bit weird.

HOWEVER... All of this fades into a tiny speck of normality when compared to the ultimate madness that is Catbus. Catbus is (as you may have guessed) both a cat and a bus. Where oh where and how and why did that combination come together?! It is so utterly, deliciously ridiculous. But so awesome. So awesome. I'm aware I just sound like a spouting fanboy, unable to make coherent sentences byt Catbus is just a fabulously cool concept. Invisible to humans, unless Totoro makes it otherwise, the giant Cat can leap over lakes, balance on telephone cables and bound up trees. All you would feel is a strong wind as it passes.
It is so delightfully bonkers, that it makes the film. Catbus is (in my opinion) the definite highlight of Miyazaki's amazing career. Possibly my favourite animated creation full stop. Stick Gaston in a Catbus and THAT is the pinnacle of animation.

Amongst the madness of the otherworldly characters, it is important for you to have a human anchor. Luckily the Kusakabe family are written with the same care and invention used for their fantastical characters. The family have a fascinating dynamic, and the viewer warms to them, what I like is that so much of their life is left unexplained.
A key element to the story is that the mum is in hospital. It is never explained why, but it does mean that the central trio of dad and the two daughters are closer, tighter, and work together, to better things for their mother.
This is what is most impressive, the relationship and characterisation of the humans. Namely the youngest daughter, Mei. She is fabulous and behaves like a proper genuine child. From her adoration and near hero worship of her older sister Satsuki to her most delightful trait - the fact that she can't seem to handle more than one emotion at a time. So Mei will quickly go from elated joy to a temper tantrum (here... in CGI for some reason). Which I think is what most toddlers are like.

The characters are rich and feel real so when Mei goes missing, running off to see her mother, you really feel for the characters. Especially as Studio Ghibli aren't afraid of killing off children (in their FILMS, not in a weird sacrificial manner), you generally feel that anything could happen to Mei.

However, there is a happy ending and the family are reunited thanks to Totoro's magic (which includes at one point... being able to fly on a magic Dreidel... whats that all about?!).

What I like about this truly heartwatrming story is the pace. It is such a slow film, plodding along allowing us to live life with the characters and settle into their ways. There is no real big drama (except for Mei running away), just a lot of set pieces in which not much happens. Yet despite all that it still tells its story in under 90 minutes.

It it not only a great cartoon and a great work of imagination. It is a brilliant piece of story telling

Hell, the only one thing I ever been good for is lovin'. Women go crazy for me, that's a really true fact!

No 307 - Midnight Cowboy
Director - John Schlesinger

This is a very odd little film. I'm not sure I can easily explain what it is about, but it features Joe Buck, a very naive and equally full of himself Texan who moves to New York in order to become a man ho, a male gigolo. However, it is not an easy job and he finds himself poorer and poorer with less and less to own.
As he becomes more cynical and more impoverished, he is taken in and looked after by Rizzo, a sickly thief and reprobate. Together they squat in condemned building and try desperately to get by. As you may be able to tell, this isn't the jolliest of films.

I do really like the initial Joe Buck. When we meet him in Texas, he is full of life and pep and vigour. He is proud of the way he looks, he wears beautifully flamboyant shirts and dresses like an old school cowboy. He is chivalrous, kind and just so bloody happy about everything. He really is an adorable character. The kindness and the optimism balances out the arrogance which also runs through him. However, as the world weary cynicism of New York starts to wear him down, all we are left with is his arrogance. Which isn't quite as nice when he isn't a ridiculously happy Texan.
He spends his time bad mouthing and belittling Rizzo, slagging him off as well as threatening violence. There is an interesting undercurrent of violence running through Joe. On several occasions he manages to stop himself just before doing something dangerous. But at one point he attacks a man and potentially kills him (the scene is left unclear). He just becomes a far less likable character, whereas Rizzo begins the film as a sleazy slimy horrible thief and con artist and gradually gets more likable.

It helps that Rizzo is played by Dustin Hoffman, who I think is an amazing actor and just a fabulously funny person (from what I've seen). He manages to give Rizzo the right mix of emotions. He is a streetwise manipulator of people but he is also very sick and his squalid living conditions mean he is just getting sicker.
You realise that despite the tempestuous relationship between the two men, they need each other to survive. It is this weird relationship, best friends who hate each other, which spurs the film on.

Despite the fairly simple buddy element , the film does some really bizarre things in its presentation. There are a lot of flashback scenes which are grainy and obscure and cut in a way that means nothing really makes sense. You just get flashing images of Joe's past but you can see that it involves a lot of violence and a strange relationship with his first girlfriend. Whilst the flashbacks show quite a scary tale of passion and obsession, the script only addresses it once.
Women go crazy for me, that's a really true fact! Ratso, hell! Crazy Annie they had to send her away!

You realise that really Joe is escaping something. The way he dresses, and the ideals of the old west help him to escape from his modern life and his moving to New York helps him escape Texas. He has no luck in New York and instead he meets somebody who is also trying to escape. From New York.
So together they go to Miami.

It is only when they reach Florida that Joe becomes comfortable, he ditches his Cowboy outfit and relaxes.. Happy. Yet that happiness doesn't last long and the film's final moment is so tragic (yet obvious and unavoidable from about halfway through the film) that it leaves you on a massive low.
As shocked and upset as the characters in the film.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

As long as there's, you know, sex and drugs, I can do without the rock and roll.

No 48 - This is Spinal Tap
Director - Rob Reiner

Spinal Tap is always going to be an important film, in that it brought us really great, influential, iconic comedy that was improvised. The improvisation thing is what is really impressive, because like Anchorman (another moment of improvisatory genius), this film is so utterly quotable. It makes you wonder how committees who are meticulously writing scripts can fail to get the zest and the laughter than some people can just invent on the spot. The acting is also brilliant, creating fabulous performances which deliver these amazing moments in a brilliantly subtle and understated way. It makes the film believable as an (albeit ridiculous) actual 'rockumentary'. However, before I go on to talk about some of the performances from comedy greats in this film, I want to begin by talking about Rob Reiner's role as fake documentary (and advert) director Marty DiBergi. For most of the film it is fairly understated, asking questions and sagely nodding as the band riffs around him. I imagine that for most of his time on screen, his biggest challenge was to keep a straight face when confronted with the insane improvisation. But his biggest triumph is his introduction. The fabulous level of awkward arrogance on display as Marty DiBergi talks about his film. My favourite bit being where he goes to cross his arms and instantly changes his mind, abandoning mid-cross.
Now it might be that Rob Reiner is genuinely uncomfortable in an acting role, but I think it is just a wonderful little performance.

As soon as the film starts though we are left to the mercy of the Tap. This is where Christopher Guest's Nigel Tufnel and Michael McKean's David St Hubbins shine as the driving force of Spinal Tap. However, there is also the excellent Harry Shearer as Derek Smalls, who whilst being a fairly background member of the band (though still in the all important central trio) has a lot of the best comic moments.
"You can't dust for vomit" he says at one point to describe one of the (many, many) unfortunate deaths of Spinal Tap drummers. Or the fabulous moment where he has to remove a foil covered cucumber from his pants when going through a metal detector. Or the point where he is trapped in his pod for the duration of the set. He is even the guy that utters the immortal "Hello Cleveland" in one of the film's greatest comedy moments.

This is the problem with this blog, I don't want to just sit there and list the film's iconic moments. But there are so many that deserve mention. Personal favourites are the Tiny Stone Henge and almost all of Nigel's little moments that he shares with the director. When left on his own you see how petulant and stupid he can be.
From his sulk about the size of the bread in his dressing room, through to his beautiful piano piece (excellently titled 'Lick My Love Pump') - seen here performed by a sprightly (and somewhat annoying) person.
However Nigel's shining moment is when guiding Marty through his guitar collection. Each ridiculous anecdote about the guitars leading up to Spinal Tap's most famous moment "This goes up to 11".
Rumour has it that Marshall released an amp that went up to 11, in tribute to the film. So Christopher Guest had a new on made, that went up to infinity. These little moments of arrogance are what makes the film so brilliant, it is what makes the humour so much cleverer than Anchorman. For the world of Anchorman is stupid. The whole thing is stupid. Here the world is real, there is a surprising level of realism in the way that society treats the rockstars who are starting to fade out. Protecting them from the cruel outside world.
This just helps to build Spinal Tap out as a bunch of very naive idiots, who are struggling with their own inadequacies.

This struggle becomes all the more evident when the film's surprisingly serious 'Yoko Ono' subplot creates a rift between David and Nigel. Because for all the talk of the band, for all the (truly fabulous and at times balls out genius) songs, for all the spectacle this is a film about a really long friendship and the rivalry and turbulence which is part of it.

And I don't know what else I can say about this. Just that it is very funny, but doesn't thrust it at you... and at the end, it is very moving.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Don't let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.

No 38 - Heat
Director - Michael Mann

This film got a lot of press and a lot of attention because it finally joined two great actors together. Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino. It is amazing to think that they had never acted together. Specially as they're both Italio-American actors from the same generation. Hell, they've even been in the same trilogy together.
And yet it wasn't until 1995 that the two of them got to share a scene together. What surprises me though is the sheer number of big(gish) names also appear in this film. People like a young Natalie Portman, the outstanding and unspeakably badass Danny Trejo (playing a character with the original name of Trejo), Hank Azaria in non-comedy form, John Voight in strange old hippy form and Val Kilmer.

This is great because whilst the film follows two fabulous actors it is filled with bit parts and supporting roles from equally talented actors. Natalie Portman gives the kind of edgy and real performance we know she was able to do even as a child, Danny Trejo is superb, his scenes (When he is occasionally put into the forefront) are incredibly poignant for someone who had such a crazy journey before becoming an actor, John Voight and Hank Azaria both have charm and acting chops needed to realistically convey their small roles.

The person to talk about though is Val Kilmer, I really like Val Kilmer, despite his indiscretions. I hoped that Gay Perry was the role to bring him back to the forefront, but I'm always happy to see him in a film. His role in here is brilliant, bringing pathos and a likable side into this arrogant and annoying gambling addict. The relationship between him and his wife is a wonderful little subplot to the movie's mains story....

The story itself is fairly simple. We have a bunch of criminals who are performing large scale heists. They are lead by DeNiro's character. We then have the FBI agents tracking them down, led by Pacino.
But, we want the story to be simple. This isn't a film filled with twists and turns... this is a simple structure on which to hang some truly excellent acting. This is a film where the joy comes from watching some fabulous performances. Whilst both are excellent actors, I have to say that it is DeNiro's performance which shines in Heat. Al Pacino seems to fluctuate between being very quiet and VERY LOUD. He has a manic disjointed delivery which I found off putting. It works when he wants to freak out criminals and get them to play along, because it is off putting. But for the rest of the film I find it a bit weird.
On the other hand, DeNiro is terrifying. His role as a leader of a criminal gang is perfect. The way that his calm and quiet composure masks an very present undercurrent of bristling violence. See how he reprimands Waingro for messing up the job. His calm composure cracking for a moment of terrifying physical force.
DeNiro is not a man I'd ever want to piss off, and he plays these violent horrible characters with such ease and such comfort. It is good to see DeNiro comfortable in a role rather than that weird awkward vibe he tends to give off when performing comedy.

However he also manages the nicer elements of Neil's character. The way he turns from angry tense suspicion to a really open and friendly charming flirt with Amy Brenneman's delightful Eady. The two of them share a really nice relationship, however as this blog's title shows Neil is not someone to settle down. So you know throughout that there is a strong chance she will get hurt.

It feels unfair to just dismiss Pacino, he is amazing, he just doesn't shine with the same elegance as DeNiro. However, for every scene where he is an annoying shouty copper there are some beautiful scenes with his family. Showing the stress and strain that such responsibility has on the people he loves. For a really powerful moment, possibly the most powerful moment in the whole film, look how he reacts when he finds his step daughter in grave peril (Spoiler clicky...). That moment of tender beauty as he cares for his stepdaughter and the panic and understanding that happens afterwards. It is beautifully understated, sensitive and moving. Considering that so much of Pacino's performance seems to be built on manic shouting, it is nice to see him being understated.

Pacino's other strongest scene is when he finally meets with DeNiro's character in a beautifully calm cafe conversation. The entire scene bristles with the undercurrent of danger and yet is so calm. Considering it is a scene which shows very little emotion and no movement at all, it crackles with energy and with chemistry. It is the pleasing resolution of 90 minutes of being teased. When they two great actors finally meet up it is a masterclass of the subtle and understated performance.

It is just a shame that the second time they meet up is for the all important 'grand finale'. Despite there being what feels like a grand finale about 80 minutes in to the film (with explosions and gun fire.... lots and lots of gunfire) the film ends with the typical duel and shootout which has to occur in these kind of chase films.
It is a shame because this film is all about The Chase. It is about how the chase affects the lives of those involved, how it becomes and obsession. It is about the thrill of the danger of the heat of pursuit.
To try and resolve something like that just seems a bit like a waste

Thursday, 7 January 2010

November 23rd, 1966 was the most important day of their lives.

No 414 - La double vie de Véronique (The Double Life of Veronique)
Director - Krzysztof Kieslowski

Another film which I knew nothing about, I didn't even realise, until near the end, that the second language in this film is Polish. But that is all the better because to know too much about this film ruins the beauty.
The film begins by cutting between two identical children, one in Poland and one in France - we then cut back to Poland and are introduced to Weronika, the first protagonist of the film, played by the beautiful and delightful Irene Jacob. What I love is that in one simple scene, we are given all the information about her we could possibly need. As her choir practise is called short because of the weather we see her finish her Soprano solo with a look of joy on her face, drenched in the torrential rain.
Weronika is full of life, and full of love. She is also very cheeky, but in a nice way... we see her run from the rain, bump into her lover and lead him straight to her room.

The film of Weronika's life doesn't have much of a story, it begins by following her around and only develops a plot when she is offered the chance to audition for a huge concert, and for someone who may be a massively famous composer, but I thought he was Christopher from Eggheads. Now, I don't want it to feel like I'm giving massive spoilers away... after all, there is a clue in the title - but the film really gets interesting when Weronika is walking home from her audition and she stumbles upon a Coach trip including Veronique (also, played by Jacob), her confusion over the moment is beautifully over looked and then she continues her life.

What I like about Weronika's story is that it has this charm and this innocence which is a delight to watch. It feels a lot like Amelie and indeed Weronika herself feels a lot like Tatou's Amelie. They both combine the wide innocence with a sense of mischief and they both have little quirks which are seen throughout the film. Weronika's adorable optimism is highlighted even more because whereas Amelie lives in a prettified, fantasy Paris, Weronika lives in Krakow during the fall of Communism. We see riots, we see protests, we see police barricades and yet throughout it all we are transfixed by Weronika who sees the beauty and the humour in the situation, be it singing a soprano part to a male voice choir, or an elderly flasher walking past, Weronika's life will make you smile.

Weronika's story ends with her performance for Chris from Eggheads, at a full theatre she performs the most important solo of her life.
At this point I do want to discuss the music in the film, because there is some truly beautiful music used throughout Weronika's story, focusing on amazing choral pieces due to Weronika's role as a soprano. Her grand show piece is particularly beautiful - Concerto En Mi Mineur by Preisner. I have never heard of this song, nor indeed of Preisner, showing that either he is quite elusive and underground. Or that I am an uncultured slob.
(actually... I found out that Preisner is a film score composer and he invented a fake 18th century composer in order to write classical music and accredit to him within films... so now I don't feel too bad).

With Weronika's story finished in this film, we cross over to France and meet Veronique. Both characters are introduced to us whilst having sex (or just before having sex) and then we follow her through her life.
This is where the film gets a bit strange because there appear to be psychic nods between Veronique and Weronika. For example, Veronique has just discovered the work of Van Den Budenmayer (Preisner's fictional composer) and is teaching her class of children to play an orchestral version of Concerto En Mi Mineur.

Despite Veronique being a far more serious and hard nosed character than the more fun loving Weronika, the film is far more whimsical and fairytale. Veronique becomes obsessed with a puppeteer who performs at the school she teaches at. The puppeteer becomes equally obsessed and begins to drop little hints and clues. Veronique turns detective and finds out more about the puppeteer.
He is a story teller and he is waiting for her at a French Cafe.

Finally the two meet and fall in love (which is never really in doubt) and the film ends. None of the story is a surprise but it is a delightful little tale.

The thing is it never touches on the mystery behind the film, despite there being several opportunities where it becomes the topic of conversation.
  • Weronika spots Veronique in the coach group travelling round Krakow
  • A member of the audience at Weronika's concert sees Veronique at a train station.
  • Veronique develops her photos of Krakow and sees the picture of Weronika in Krakow

However, the important thing is that none of the film's cast are any wiser than the viewer. So we don't get a divine moment of explanation, we only get moments of confusion with the characters, seeing something they don't understand.

The only exception to this is the puppeteer who begins to tell a story with two identical puppets of Veronique.

November 23rd, 1966 was the most important day of their lives. That day, at three in the morning, they were both born in two different cities, on two different continents. They both had dark hair and brownish-green eyes. When they were both two years old and already knew how to walk, one of them burnt her hand on a stove. A few days later, the other reached out to touch the stove but pulled away just in time and yet, she could not have known she was just about to burn herself.

If the story reflects the film, they couldn't be identical twins. Instead the film plays with duality and identity. But is wise enough never to give a definitive answer.

A beautiful film which manages to tell a wonderfully elegant and simple story (or pair of stories) in a complex and metaphysical framework.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Let me make something clear to you. He doesn't have a name. He has a program. He's product

No 404 - Robocop
Director - Paul Verhoeven

Staying in the police genre we can still move to this, the polar opposite to The Usual Suspects. From the very first scene (hell the first 30seconds) you can see that Robocop has not aged well. The from the tone to the visuals, the dialogue through to the fashion. This film is so rooted in the 80s. It could not be any more 80s if it tried.
Luckily, Robocop is also ridiculous. Completely stupid, in a Highlander kind of way and very enjoyable... so you allow the rubbishness, as it kind of adds to the enjoyable stupidity

The film is set in a ridiculously violent world. Where the average purse snatcher will blow your head off with a shotgun BEFORE robbing you. It is a world where the police are allowed to machine gun you to death as part of being 'authorised to use force'.
It is also a world where one VERY corrupt organisation is able to control everything - from the military to pharmaceuticals to everything.

But please, don't let the politics bog you down too much... this is, after all, a Verhoeven film. So, as we're introduced to Murphy, the newest recruit to the Detroit Police, we get a typical walk through the co-ed showers.... allowing for some typically Verhoeven nudity. Murphy then lasts less than one mission before he is shotgunned into multiple bloody pieces. After all, why work on characterisation when we can have messy ridiculous violence? Whilst that may sound like criticism, in the context of THIS universe, it really works.
Left as only a bloody carcass... Murphy's partner (the really quite sweet Officer LEwis, played by Nancy Allen) drags him to hospital where he dies and is snatched up by the dubious mega company for part of their Robocop program.

And so we get Robocop. The big clunking monotone ultra-police man. He packs some serious firepower and he has some pretty damned awesome skills when it comes to being unstoppable. He goes and stops some crimes, after all, that is what he has been programmed with (his 3 objectives and mysterious 4th - if you want a 4th objective that Robocop can't see, just program it so HE CAN'T SEE IT.... not so that it flashes 'confidential' over his point of view.). However he falls across the gang which killed him. A gang which is led by Red from That 70's show and includes The Devil from Reaper as well as a cliche jive talking sassy black man and some other people. A pretty good 80's gang all things considered.
This gives him flashbacks and painful memories and he goes out to get his revenge and kill the gang.

Most of the film is therefore a very slow chase (Robocop is persistent, but he aint the fastest bugger) with an AWFUL LOT of bullets being fired everywhere. Like seriously, everywhere! It seems that the bad guys don't realise that Robocop is pretty much (though not entirely) bullet proof. They just keep trying to shoot him and he just keeps going up to them and killing them.
I particularly like the death bu HUGE vat of toxic waste, which mutates a baddie who then explodes into a gooey mess when hit by a car... a lot of fun.
The story builds up with more ludicrous nonsense allowing us to have a fight between Robocop and the real impressive feat of tech in this film.... the ED-209. The robotic police alternative to Robocop is a pretty badass piece of kit and an AMAZING piece of stop motion animation (I do love a good piece of stop motion). However it was not designed to go down stairs. Maybe Old Detroit is perfectly flat, we'll never know......

So yes, whilst the film toys with the ideas of identity and self, it never tries to get very deep. What we have his is gratuitous violence, explosions and blood - and it makes for a very fun, horrifically violent romp.

And sometimes a romp is just what you need

The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist. And like that... he is gone.

No 61 - The Usual Suspects
Director - Bryan Singer.

In my opinion, this is a film that lives for the grand reveal. I have seen it a few times, and call me the cultural heathen but I've found that it lessens with repeat watching. The real strength of this film is the way that it tells an intricate tale of robberies before flooring the viewer with an almighty twist. Usually, I don't feel bad discussing the film's ending etc, however in this context, the ending is the best bit of the film - so I will warn you before I talk about it. In case you've never seen it.

The film itself is made up of two sections.
Firstly, after a massive explosion on a boat, Verbal Kint is waiting in a police station, being 'informally questioned' by the police. The film then flashes back to the story of the series of events leading up to the final explosion on the boat.

I have nothing against the interrogation scenes, they are tense, they are usually angry and Kevin Spacey's depiction of Verbal is superb. For most of the time he is almost monotone, a bored criminal reluctantly giving out information to a cop who wants even more details.
The few time he shows emotion, it is so underplayed, so subtle. Spacey's acting is constantly understated... which is what makes the melodrama of the flashbacks so strange.
My main concern with the story being told by Verbal is that a lot of it fails to make logistical sense...
After all, Verbal is able to explain things that are happening when he is hiding or not in the scene... he also admits to the police that he shot a drug dealer in the head. If this is a genuine discussion of what is going on then there appear to be some serious flaws.

However, the story is told and, the thing is, there have been hundreds of gangster films or films about heists gone wrong. This film is about a group of 5 villains who get collected by the police and put into a prison line up (in another university wall adorning iconic poster), when banged up together they decide to go on a robbery which has dangerous repercussions. Whilst is interesting seeing this bunch of reprobates get caught up in more and more extreme jobs as they get entangled with the mysterious Keyser Söze, the story is not really that compelling and the acting isn't all that strong. It is a case of - group go on a job, something goes wrong, group are persuaded to go on another job. Leading up to a big drug deal (or is it....) on the aforementioned boat.
This is a film that hinges entirely on the question - Who is Keyser Söze? Being both the question which moves the film on but also the question which redeems the film. For as the question is explored, out come the clever and interesting aspects of the film.

Keyser Söze is an enigma, he is spoken about in hush tones and is given near mythical status by the criminals throughout. What I love is that in the flashback, the fictional depiction of Keyser making him look like an epic figure shrouded in mystery and flame.... or El Mariachi.
The mystery of Keyser, and the strange company he keeps is the film's most interesting strength. My final point before I go into SPOILER territory is a quick question about Mr Kobayashi.... He is described as a Limey, making him English - but his accent is bonkers, partly Indian or maybe Middle Eastern. Where is he meant to be from?!


Whilst the film may be a bit pedestrian the moment of reveal when we discover that everything is fake.... that is cinematic genius. All of a sudden you can talk about why the story feels cliched or convoluted - it is being made up, on the spot. The use of cliche and easy set ups makes complete sense once that is all taken into account.
The race is beautiful as Kint leaves the police station, gradually losing his disability as he walks down the street, the way that it is inter cut with flashes of the office showing where Kint got his inspiration. It is both an iconic moment of cinema but also a truly fabulous piece of writing. The ending all that makes up for the plodding middle of the film (though I still wouldn't rate the film so highly).

What I also love is that, even after the film ends... you could still argue that the question is never really answered.

Just who is Keyser Söze?