Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Dr. Green, how can you diagnose someone as an obsessive compulsive disorder, and then act like I have some choice about barging in here?

No 140 - As Good as it Gets
Director - James L Brooks

Jack Nicholson is a crazy old man isn't he. He's always been a crazy old man.

He is also fascinating to watch. Something about his face. His eyebrows and his teeny tiny eyes and his ENORMOUS creepy grin.
His, is a face you can look at forever because he manages act with parts of your head which shouldn't be acting:

In this film, Nicholson plays a grumpy old curmudgeon and the film is set in a weird tone, begin with some brilliant dog-based toilet humour, but also factoring in some uncomfortable (hilariously uncomfortable at times) homophobia and racism towards his neighbours.

Of course, this is Hollywood and grumpy old curmudgeons can't stay grumpy forever. So, after a surprisingly brutal scene, Nicholson is left looking after the stupidest dog in the world!

Now - it turns out the dog is a Brussels Griffon.... but look at its doggy face. It is the stupidest dog in the world....

That is a stupid face.

And so, looking at my notes, I seem to have become fixated with the dog. I even drew sketches of the dog.
I think the reason was that I didn't want to focus on the main story.

The main story sees Nicholson soften into a nicer more likeable guy as he goes on a roadtrip with Helen Hunt's waitress (what he fancies) and his gay neighbour (or Gaybour) played by Greg Kinnear.
In this, the typical happens.
Now call me naive, but I sort of hoped that Nicholson's character would see the good that he was doing. Would see the relationships he was helping to form and this would soften his character. He'd leave with two new friends and a changed outlook on the world.

But no... THERE HAS TO BE A FUCKING LOVE ANGLE DESPITE THE FACT THAT NICHOLSON IS 26 YEARS OLDER THAN HUNT.... this is never mentioned. He is old enough to be her dad and he is horrible.... and yet Hunt fancies him right up.
At one point, Nicholson's character meets Hunt's mother.... I thought that would lead to romance.... an interesting (and fitting) relationship.

There are also interesting moments which are downplayed - Greg Kinnear's artist finds his muse in Helen Hunt's character. This gives us one scene of cheeky nudity and hunt-boob, but very little in the way of story or character notes.

you see....

its all bumped out of the way for this

And this cheapens the whole film for me. I like the idea of Nicholson curing (or at least controlling) his OCDs - I like the idea of him becoming a nicer person.

But I'd much rather it was friendship which changed him. Or even a silly little dog.

Because those changes become much less poignant when the motivation is clear:

Jack just wants to stick his Nicholson in to Helen's Hunt.

I've done a lot of bad things, Joey. Maybe it's comin' back to me. Who knows? I'm a jinx maybe. Who the hell knows?

No 11 - Raging Bull
Director - Martin Scorsese

Oh Blog.... I've neglected you. I'm like an absent husband taking advantage of you as you wait for me, scared of what I might do next....

Which dovetails nicely to RAGING BULL - the story of a horrible shit of man who is in no way likeable throughout the film.

Seriously - Jake La Motta is a horrible bastard of a man. Now... I'm not necessarily talking about HIM personally (never insult a boxer) - but certainly his character in this film. Bastard.

I don't want to dwell on this too much as it would just be a list of character flaws and violent outbreaks - also, I saw this film ages ago and lost all my notes - but this is a man who mixes dangerous levels of paranoia and arrogance. He is quick to temper, and quick to get violent. He leaves his wife for a girl of 15 and continues to abuse and bash her around anyway.

He is a nasty piece of work. But the film never shies away from it. It gets right in there. Sticks close to the screaming and the flying crockery. Clinging to the fiery Mediterranean outbursts of rage. It is close up, hyper real and ugly.
The perfect counterpoint the boxing scenes.

Scorsese films the boxing scenes in a similar way to the scenes of domesticity - the camera is up close, in the face of the violent. But the image seems softer, the movements more dreamy. Often the scene's sound is faded out and replaced with music.
As soon as La Motta steps into the ring, the film takes a fantasy twist. It becomes beautiful to watch.

Just look a the silent moments of confrontation in this video between Sugar Ray and Jake La Motta. The cinematography is brilliant.... from the stark use of Red in the opening credits

to the final sequence in which a fatter, older La Motta memorises a speech - talking to his reflection in an awkward monotone delivery: It all looks amazing.

Which brings us to the other of the film's key strengths.... De Niro.
De Niro's transformation throughout this film is phenomenal. It is a tour de force, not only in acting as he creates a rounded, deep, flawed and layered character from someone who could easily be a 1 dimensional fucker, but also in the physical dedication. As the film progresses, we see La Motta gain weight, as he loses the will to fight and just gets lazy with his riches. It is impressive because it happens over the course of the film, but it is more impressive because it sneaks up on you.... you don't notice it at first, until he's parading around topless on the beach. It makes it much more striking than the films which just cut to a point where the protagonist is super skinny or fatter.

The slow creep of fat is similar to the majority of the film. The film's knockout punches are the fights. Amazing shots which have become iconic and which are frequently paid homage to in films where punches are thrown.
The rest of the film is more of a creeper. Growing on you, slowly, and horribly.... getting under your skin as you watch the rise and fall of a cruel cruel man...