Tuesday, October 31, 2006 

What you should've watched this Halloween.

I like Halloween. I like Halloween. I like The Thing even more. I like the sloshy stylings of Eric Red, writer of Near Dark and The Hitcher. I adore The Nightmare Before Christmas despite it being tarnished by 'depressed' teens who abuse it to make themselves feel better with glitter. H.P Lovecraft would be proud of Alien. Vietnam allegories fly wildly in the likes of Aliens and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Scream proved postmodernism breeds. Horror movies are smart, and they're dumb. And the best ones do both at the same time. This is without even tapping into the inordinate number of sub-genres: science gone loopy (Frankenstein), the hotpot of religiosity (The Exorcist, The Wicker Man), technology and flesh (stand up David Cronenberg), comedy (The Evil Dead), slasher, snuff, faux snuff, and the big kahuna of them all: sex. At least since Janet Leigh took a shower in 1960.

Yes, sex is usually the death knell for any eager adolescent ready to pop their cherry in the vicinity of a serial killer. But it can also be the stuff of emotional validity or volatility, and nowhere is this more poetically expressed than in Nic Roeg's 1973 thriller Don't Look Now: simply the greatest, most haunting, beautiful, and sublimely unsettling picture I've ever seen. And even with my relative inexperience with the genre, I realise it takes a lot to incense a blind fear of the colour red. The stretched sex scene in which Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland make love to consummate their dwindling grief for their dead daughter is the one everyone remembers. Partly because it further showcases Roeg's tricksy editing (which is, by the way, unsurpassed), the scene remarkably intercut with the couple getting their clothes back on, but mostly because it suffuses the entire film with the heart-wrenching sincerity which will reach devastating proportions come the time that figure decides to turn around and face the camera.

Scraped down to basics, it's completely barmy. An old blind psychic waltzes through a church exhaling majestically. But the mood Roeg creates, contained within the unit of John and Laura's relationship, is perpetually truthful. It's intuitive. As the mind wanders, so does the camera. Once the foundation of togetherness is shattered, the frenzied explosion of "nothing is what it seems." is kept in check by sheer instinctive circumvention. If frozen lakes aren't flat, then they're certainly deep. For an ostensibly a British production, but there's nothing quaint or humble about Don't Look Now. Julie Christie will break your heart.

I was going to write a lengthy dissection of the film's burrowing psychology, but it seems rather unnecessary when the BFI rightly rank it as the eighth best Brit flick of all time and Roger Ebert waxes favourably about it here. So say a little prayer for sex in the cinema, it can be done right, with sensitivity, and consequently scare the living daylights out of you. The Baxter marriage is the most emotionally worn and realistic relationship this side of a John Cassavetes film. And when you're dealing with the dumb/smart genre of horror, that's really quite an achievement. Just wait until the remake.

Saturday, October 21, 2006 

Angelo Badalamenti - Piano Mulholland Drive


Friday, October 20, 2006 


Roger Ebert is back. Here's the proof.

I loathe twonks who over-simplify the Pulitzer winning critic with the thumbs up/thumbs down logic. There's much more sincerity than that. Especially since he cites Aguirre, The Wrath of God as his favourite film.

Good to have you back.

Thursday, October 12, 2006 

Mini-review: X-Men 3

The standing theory amongst film critics cleverer than I is that just because Bryan Singer happens to be gay, homoeroticism must pervade every frame of the first two wildly successful X-Men films. Though with Singer off in favour of returning Superman, the hurried installation of hetero-hack Brett Ratner in the franchise's third (and ostensibly final) instalment seems to suggest something more in line with the churlish machismo of the Rush Hour films. Alas, an entirely different kind of camp infiltrates X-Men:The Last Stand, the kind where Ian McKellen can foist the Golden Gate Bridge over to Alcatraz whilst bellowing, “Charles always wanted to build bridges!” and –geddit?- literally doing so. Suddenly Iceman ‘coming out of the closet’ to his folks in part II seems nuanced.

That's not to completely disregard this comic book fare. It's certainly more to the point than Superman Returns. But clocking in at a lean 104 minutes, Last Stand eschews characterisation in way of dumb one-liners and a schizoid dual narrative (mutant cure= bad, crazy Jean Grey= bad) which would make even the most complacent Hollywood screenwriter blush. Any goodwill toward our hard done-by mutants friends is reliant on the innate affability of Kelsey Grammer or any broody emotional hold-over which may have miraculously stumbled its way across from the first two pictures. In the end, just about as bafflingly threatening as the rise of the Conservative party; but come closing time as gleefully vapid as David Cameron the environmentalist. All filler, no killer.

Saturday, October 07, 2006 

Review: The Departed

There's a reason why Martin Scorsese is Earth's greatest living filmmaker. For now, it's called The Departed. In a few years it'll probably be called Silence - his purported next project, a tale of trouble in feudal Japan, and his most radical departure since Kundun- and then cower before Deed Poll following his proposed Roosevelt biopic; which again pairs him with recent bell-ringer Leo DiCaprio. The point which I'm basely trying to make is that Scorsese's career continues to be one of constant and endless re-invention: instinctively transcendent of hammy genre trappings, and whilst most of his oeuvre is riddled with angsty Catholicism and subsequently deep-rooted existential fissures, they manifest themselves in both bloody gangster sprawls and charged period drama. Yet it's the former for which this Italian-American Oscar-dodger and sometime documentarian will be remembered for. It's both a blessing and curse.

With some diffidence, then, we approach The Departed - not only a 'return' to the well-tread mean streets, but also with the added stigma of being smacked with the remake stick. This is of course is not a virginal thing for Scorsese (he eloquently updated J. Lee Thompson's Cape Fear in 1991) but subsuming the poetic Hong Kong verve of slick-as-you-like Infernal Affairs with a quasi-Bostonian underworld is a potentially fatal choice. Don't heed these warning signs. They're infantile and disreputable. If you think a sexagenaric auteur who's had a dodgy decade can't make Dropkick Murphys covering Woody Guthrie work, you're gravely mistaken. He'll even make it a frequent cue.

The Departed is about as subtle as genocide. It's an extreme, pervasive, meditation on crime and law enforcement and the grey in-between. Any idiot could you tell that. But it's also an extremely entertaining meditation, one which screams out for commercial approval -or the approval of the Academy?- amid the dizzying stylistic verité that punctuates the entire picture. This isn't Scorsese being lazy, it's just this particular story calls for less moralistic inclination than Raging Bull and, to a lesser extent, Goodfellas because of the sheer weight of plot and the paunch of Jack Nicholson. The "even keel" between truth and duplicity Vera Farminga's character talks about is one Scorsese works hard to retain. So Nicholson might dust his floozies liberally with cocaine and spook Matt Damon with a dildo, but paradoxically it's with restraint. Or at least Smilin' Jack is countered by a knowingly idiosyncratic screenplay with an intrinsically starry ensemble to boot.

The same can't be said for the sporadic narrative; the thread of which pits undercover romanticist cop Billy Costigan (DiCaprio) against the functional bastard-of-sorts mole Colin Sullivan (Damon) with disastrous results for the pair. But that's largely inconsequential as the film brims with such heartfelt ingenuity (I really cannot subscribe to the elitist theory Scorsese's become emotionally detached over the years) and its seeming simplicity wisely mimics both Michael Mann's cleaner Heat and its stylised Chinese precursor while ignoring the gentle compulsion of blind exposition. In fact, taken as a whole, The Departed houses such consistent guttural intensity, we all breathe a sigh of relief when Alec Baldwin's Ellerby casually summarises and dismisses one of the film's several McGuffins with, "I don't know what it is, you don't know what it is, who gives a fuck?".

It won't come as much of a surprise that Martin Scorsese feels the same way.

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