Sunday, 10 July 2011

She knew everyone that mattered. Everyone loved her

No 318 - Rebecca
Director - Alfred Hitchcock

I have not read the original novel and only had the most basic understanding of the plot.... basically, I knew enough to know that the sketch 2:30 into the video below was based on Rebecca:

you may as well watch it all because Big Train is amazing

But I couldn't have told you what actually happens in the story. I think this is the best way to view the film, because it really heightens the fantastic series of twists and turns.

The story (which has apparently been sanitised slightly from the book which is even more morbid) follows a protagonist who is never given a first name (creating a weird distance and sense of formality between her and the viewer) as she marries above her station and is permanently belittled by the memory of his ex wife. Joan Fontaine is wonderful in this role. She manages to have a whole load of small town charm and elegance. However, she is also very much out of her comfort zone and frequently stressed and upset. You really sympathise with the character and want things to sort out for her.

The story starts fairly mundanely, as a film it is very much of its period and has dated quite badly in places (I particularly enjoyed the condescending attitude to those 'silly little women') and the scenes in Monte Carlo move quite slowly. However, Hitchcock's skill has always been tension and once the action moves away from the courting and into the stately home of Manderlay, the film really picks up.
There are secrets and mysteries which have not been explained, and Max De Winter's first wife Rebecca is at the heart of it all - her legacy clear not only in the sheer magnitude of objects with a monogrammed R, but also in the attitude of the servants. The most notable, and brilliant, is the creepy character of Mrs Danvers. A solemn figure who seems lurking behind all of Mrs De Winter's social faux pas and embarrassments. She is clearly a nasty piece of work, but might there be more to her?

And thats where I want to end it really.... Because the final act of the film is just an incredible barrage of twists, revelations and dramatic moments. None of which I really saw coming. They are also timed to perfection, so just as you recover from one game-changing statement, the next one hits you.

Accept that the film will begin slowly and pompously, and you're in for a treat. A complex and rewarding mystery that is explained in a third act which moves at an oddly breakneck pace after the first two far slower acts.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

I haven't felt this awful since we saw that Ronald Reagan film.

No 368 - Airplane!
Director - Jim Abrahams, Jerry Zucker and David Zucker

You have to give this film a fair bit of credit.... it really goes in all guns blazing and for just under 90 minutes we're subjected to an almost ceaseless barrage of gags. Airplane!'s real triumph though is the sheer breadth of these jokes. Desperate to be funny to everyone, the pulls out all the stops with an amazing range of jokes: from visual to verbal, surreal, cheap or very intelligent, there really is something for everyone.

The film plays with all the cliches of 1950's disaster films, as a passenger has to land a crashing jumbo jet. Liberal use of flashbacks allows the tone to flick away from the Disaster movie genre and give the gag writers a bit more leeway.

The film is the epitome of hit and miss, and it is really quite dated now - especially in the way the film treats other races, women and homosexuals. There is a bit of a nasty streak through some of the humour which I didn't entirely like, but most of the time the film just revels in being silly.

I don't really know what else to say. I will always find the scenes in the cockpit hilarious. Either the misunderstandings based on names, or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar breaking character or the creepy paedophilic subtext of Captain Oveur. However there are also little gags which rest too much on cliche and lazy preconceptions. The OTT camp Johnny seems too weird, and his frequent outbursts just began to piss me off really.

I don't want to sound too preachy, I fucking LOVE Airplane. I've seen it a fair few times and it still makes me properly laugh out loud in moments - and you have to respect it for one major discovery.

The man who moved from being all serious to becoming the king of pissing about on film. A bloody hero really.
And Airplane sort of led the way for film parody and scattergun humour being let off all over the place.
Which means we have it to blame for the inexplicable rise of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer.

which is a shame

"You who swallowed a falling star, o' heartless man, your heart shall soon be mine." That can't be good for the table.

No 230 - Hauru no Ugoku Shiro (Howl's Moving Castle)
Director - Hayao Miyazaki

If there is one thing you can confidently say about Studio Ghibli it is that they make beautiful looking films. Whether it is the masses of fish swimming about in Ponyo or the spirits which mill about in Spirited Away, their films look amazing, deep and layered with gloriously populated and immensely imaginative worlds. It is the same with Howl's Moving Castle, particularly the titular castle itself. From the first time we watch it clanking through the countryside, I was entranced. It is the attention to detail with all the individual moving components which make it so refreshing to watch:

Watch the trailer's opening sequence (also the film's opening sequence) as the castle emerges from the fog.

Just beautiful.
Every frame of the film could be printed off and stuck on your wall. Glorious.

Unfortunately, the rest of the film isn't as strong as the excellent visuals. The film sort of plods along with a story that manages to be vague and far too complex. Sophie's curse (at the heart of the story) is clear enough, but it is interwoven with something about a war and wizards turning into birds and Howl's heart and having to hide from the witch of the waste. It is, really, nonsense and I spent large moments of the film not understanding what was going. This is on my 4th viewing. I don't expect new people to get it at all.

The story isn't moved along by the characters either. It doesn't bode well that the films most likable character is a silent scarecrow with a fixed stupid grin and little to no movement. Everyone else is grumpy, rude or just plain non-eventful.

Howl is the guiltiest, he seems rude, shallow, sulky and really really boring. He is also barely in the film - more of a presence in the background of proceedings who occasionally swooshes in during his Black Swan birdman moments. He doesn't really show any compassion until one big move in the film's final act. But by then, Sophie has fallen in love with him, it is a romance which is used to explain a lot of their actions but which is itself, not that clearly explained. Much like many of the plot points in this film, they just happen. Deal with it.

It is a shame that the story is so lacking, because the film is a pleasure to watch, you just have to entirely disconnect your ears and watch it as a purely visual aesthetic set in a delightful steam punky world. A steam punky world with WIZARDS! Surely the best kind of steam punk world.

But yeah, much like Howl himself, the film looks good, but the intentions and details are muddled or just dull.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Mrs. MacNeil, the problem with your daughter is not her bed; it's her brain.

No 206 - The Exorcist
Director - William Friedkin

The first time I watched The Exorcist was at university and I was drunk... We watched it in a gang on VHS at about midnight. I didn't find it that scary, but I put it down to being drunk and rowdy students. After all... this is:

But... is it? I think the film splits nicely down the middle. The defining moment being where they catch young Regan masturbating with a bloody crucifix. Before that moment the film is genuinely unsettling, following a young girl who is traumatised by a series of strange events. I like that there are these moments (such as the prologue which I'd forgotten about) which begin to paint the paranormal elements, and which create the unsettling tone. One of the greatest shots is when Father Merrin is facing a statue of the Devil in Iraq as dogs fight in the distance. The growling gets louder and more distorted until I'm sure there was a voice hidden in it. Its a great moment, creepy without relying on hokey effects and brilliantly countered by the fact that the next hour is bogged down in doctors, suburbia and the little practical intricacies of life.

The exact reason as to WHY Regan gets possessed is never explained, but it is hinted at with the discovery of a Ouija Board and Regan's conversations with Captain Howdy (I love a fictional Captain) - The possession is much scarier when it is in the realms of believability. Perhaps it is because I have an epileptic sister, but for me the real horrific moments are the vacant looks on Regan's face or the moments of fitting. There is something quite chilling about horribly thing happening to a young child and the persistent series of tests and Xrays which reveal nothing. For me the most shocking moments of the film are the dark scowling looks Linda Blair pulls off, that seem so alien and other-worldly.

So, this seems like a good time to talk about Linda Blair's performance. It is spigging incredible, easily the best thing in the film. Blair was only around 11 or 12 when she made this and not only is she covering some heavy and disturbing themes (makes you rethink all the Hit Girl controversy when you see some of the stuff Regan says and does - whilst her possessed voice is a voice over, she is still acting and saying those things) but she is also putting across a very nuanced and layered performance. Not only is she flitting between identities but also she is trapped in her own body and silently screaming desperately for help and escape. The transformation is an incredible performance and during the slower quieter moments 'possessed Regan' is truly freaky - thanks to the wicked grins and mannerisms Blair puts across.

It is just a shame that the film also descends into silly ridiculous. Whilst the neck spinning and pea soup are famous moments, they're hardly scary. They're just a bit silly. That's the problem, I actually found myself laughing at the Devil more often than not, either because of the ridiculousness of the situation, or because there are some genuinely funny lines. Kudos especially to the term "Your cunting daughter" - I don't think that word gets used as an adjective often enough.

So, in summary, when we are dealing with an unknown force assaulting a small girl we have a film which explores the paranormal without accepting it. The film's horror stems from the world's rationalism and watching it crumble against the events that happen. However, once it all breaks into the scratched faced insanity it becomes silly and loses a lot of the fear. I also find the ending (which I won't spoil) as a bit of an anticlimax. Though I like that, once again, the paranormal isn't resolved and the demon (or devil) is never really truly vanquished.