Monday, 10 August 2009

Korine the Harmful has a new film coming...

...

It was made without any notice and has just premiered in Toronto. It's called Trash-Humpers, and it's supposed to be a Gummo-esque musical about a gang of freaks who go around doing anti-social things. Apart from that I don't know anything about it, but it's supposedly his most controversial work to date. Find out more at www.harmony-korine.com

Monday, 3 August 2009

I'm back...

...from San Fransisco, and recently I've been doing a bit of writing a bit of experimentation, but I hope to do a couple more reviews soon, maybe a music review...

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Twin Peaks Season 2 - a review... *MAY CONTAIN MINOR SPOILERS*

...

I love Twin Peaks Season 1 with a passion. For me it's the best thing ever to be commited to television. Sadly the same cannot be said for season 2 by a long shot. I can't believe how it changed so rapidly in it's second half from the 1st half and the 1st season, chiefly in tone and mood (and they're not good changes by any stretch), and the less I say about the story the better.

Twin Peaks Season 2 episode 1 is brilliant, and one of the best episodes of the series. It's creepy, ominous, blackly funny, disturbing and hypnotic, in fact almost a match to the brilliant pilot in terms of quality. As the investigations of both the teenagers and Cooper and the local law press on it maintains this quality; creepy, sad, funny, and always teetering on the edge of dread and chaos. New characters are introduced, like Harold Smith, an orchid-keeper who never leaves his house and owner of the secret diary of Laura Palmer. Lenny Von Dohen plays him beautifully, and the scenes he has with Donna are great to watch. A love triangle ensues when James starts falling for Maddy during a karaoke session at Donna's house. And it works, without ever straying from the story. The story continues seamlessly from the last series, with Audrey finding herself trapped at One Eyed Jacks and Cooper continuing his investigation through dreams and intuition. The next lot of episodes are for the most part brilliant, maintaining this tone; balancing on the edge of the frighteningly real and the hypnotically surreal, as Cooper has visions of a giant visiting him and giving him clues. And Albert Rosenflower returns, hilariously cynical as ever. But then the TV studio interfered. However, taking a step back for a second, I see no logic in revealing the killer halfway through the season in order to boost ratings, I mean it's basically taking away the centre of the series and leaving in it's stead a jumbled mess of loose narrative threads. And apparently the company made a bad decision, as the ratings plummeted after that, resulting in the series' cancellation many episodes later. So the television studio ABC made David Lynch reveal the killer in episode 16. And from thereon in it does seem quite rushed, although that episode is an absolute tour-de-force and one of the best of the series, and by far the most violent and frightening. The next few episodes are just as compelling as Cooper still tries to figure out who the killer is following another murder, but for the prominence of one highly irritating and unneccessary character; Dick Tremayne, a pretentious men's fashion expert who had a fling with secretary Lucy. This leads to an annoying conflict with the dumbstruck Andy which too often interrupts the more compelling events of the series.

But that dumb plot strand is just a taster of some of the more idiotic things that suddenly pop up in the second half of the series when it has no direction probably resulting from the absence of David Lynch. Indeed David Lynch does have a small but amusing secondary role through Season 2 as a deaf FBI chief who can't stop shouting. What's most striking about the second half of Season 2 is the complete change of tone. And it's far from positive. Season 1 and most of the first half of Season 2 was mysterious, darkly comic, artistic, melancholic, and deeply emotionally involving, and it all stemmed from the central brilliant setup of the murder mystery. It's narrative is perfect, the way the colourful characters' lives impact off each other is hugely entertaining and compelling and it flows seamlessly. And as I sat through the latter half of Season 2 I thought a lot about the first season, yearning to revisit it. The seed of the problem is of course the early revelation of the killer, and secondary to that, the absence of David Lynch and the hiring of too many writers to write in far too many quirky but far from charming characters, pointless tangents and stupid plots, such as Andy and Dick becoming amateur sleuths in order to find out if an orphan is the devil or not. That speaks for itself, I've got nothing more to say on that one. There's no serious heart to it, it's just comic relief for the sake of it. There are a couple of strands that are mildly amusing, such as ex-sleaze Benjamin Horne re-enacting the civil war. But that's all it is, it adds up to jack and shit. On a brief sidenote, I'm sick of people dissing Bobby. He's an excellent character in the series, going from unlikeable, to unintentionally hilarious, and he is very likeable; his relationship with Shelley touching and great fun to follow.


Basically Season 2 becomes something of a circus, with only the looming menace of Windom Earle and the Black Lodge partly redeeming it. For me personally, the biggest insult was pushing hippie shrink Dr. Jacoby to the back and having him assist in uninspired comic routines. He was one of my favourite characters from Season 1, and one of the most interesting and compelling. Russ Tamblyn was perfectly cast, and the scene in which he confronts Cooper about his love for Laura and his intense interest in the mystery. When he confesses in the cemetary at night that Laura gave his life purpose, it is deeply touching. Here was a character I really cared for, and he was ditched, even in the first half of Season 2 as he vacations to Hawaii, not to bash the first half of Season 2. I'm still angry at the way they wrapped up the mystery, after episode 16 it feels as if they were trying to get it over with as quickly as possible, with a funeral in which all the characters re-unite cheerfully and briefly. It's quite unsatisfying. And another of my favourite characters from Season 1; Audrey Horne, is pushed into an unconvincing romance with a young businessman character played woodenly by Billy Zane. There are various other pointless soap opera plot strands but I REALLY don't want to get into them. But the series does pick up with two plots that keep it above complete degeneration into a go-nowhere glossy soap; that of psychopathic ex-FBI agent Windom Earle and his capture of Leo and mysterious and deadly intentions, and that of Jocelyn Packard, who is revealed to be a tragic and deadly character, and whose fate causes her lover Harry to completely break down. His strong and touching relationship with Cooper is put to the test and Michael Ontkean's performance reaches a high point. Kenneth Walsh is hugely entertaining as Windom Earle, taking on disguises and manipulating people into his traps and I only wish there was more of him rather than the dead-end narrative strands I mentioned earlier. His demonic plotting with his newly found slave Leo was the only thing that kept me watching. In the last few episodes of the series Cooper falls in love with an ex-nun named Annie Blackburn, played nicely by Heather Graham in a very early role. Earle uses this to his advantage, and this leads to a confrontion in the final episode involving dead characters related to Laura Palmer in an extra-dimensional realm. The last episode, directed by David Lynch, while far from the best, is excellent (director, David Lynch), disturbing, surreal, frightening, and managing to tie into the original mystery of Laura Palmer. It's visually beautiful and more frightening than any horror film, but alas it could not save the dying series, watched by too few by then the series was cancelled, leaving lots of dark cliffhangers. But to me it doesn't matter. Even if the latter half of the second season wasn't very good at all, Twin Peaks will forever exist in my imagination, ever since I stayed up all night to watch the brilliant first season. Somehow I doubt I'll watch those last episodes any time soon. All I need is the first 18 or so episodes and that's my Twin Peaks...


Next stop, the movie; Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. I like the look of it, it looks closer in tone to Season 1 and it's about the last seven days of Laura Palmer, all about the original mystery I fell in love with. I've leant Season 1 out to a friend, but as soon as I get it back I'll delve right back into the great Pilot episode...or I could go outside for a couple of hours..........maybe not...

Monday, 6 July 2009

Coming soon...

...

An overview on the variable Twin Peaks season 2...

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Hmmmmmm...

...I feel I maybe need to start reviewing some films I really strongly dislike. Maybe I should review POTC 3, I hate that film with a passion, maybe it'd be fun tearing it to pieces...

INTERVIEW with filmmaker Paul Bortowski...

...

Welsh filmmaker Paul Bortowski is an up-and-coming abstract filmmaker. His films are simple but stylish and effective; nightmares concerning madness, discovery and isolation...






Andrew says:
So, how did you get interested in cinema, and at what age?

Paul says:
when i was a child i watched many classic films with my father. i watched many during that time, i think the main film that got me into that world was sergio leone's a fistful of dollars, ever since then i have been obsessed with film. i cant be sure on an exact age, i would say that i was roughly 7 years old

Andrew says:
well that's the perfect age, and a fistful of dollars is no doubt the perfect film; youthful, adventurous, majestic and thrilling. So what was it that really struck you about that particular film?

Paul says:
i simply very much enjoyed it, it was unlike anything i would of expected to of seen, especially at that age. i also adored the musical score of the film, i found it fascinating. ever since i first watched the film i suddenly became a huge clint eastwood fan, he was my hero and still is to this day, after now seeing his entire filmography

Andrew says:
do you prefer eastwood as an actor or as a director?

Paul says:
a difficult question, i would say as an actor. i love his performances, his voice, his rough looks, his visual presence is legendary to me

Andrew says:
what made you think about filmmaking and the process and becoming a director?

Paul says:
when the invention of dvd was released, i naturally seemed to watch all the special features, i found the technical processes of film making fascinating, hence i very much enjoyed watching making of documentaries, the very detailed documentaries, such as the 3 and a half hour docu concerning the making of blade runner. i learnt a considerable amount of knowledge just by watching these...
i then simply decided that film is the ruote i want to head, i then applied for a college course concerning this field

Andrew says:
how did you find the college course?

Paul says:
it was very beneficial, it concerned multimedia as well as film/media production-studies, so i learnt alot of extra knowledge in different but not entirely different subjects. it also gave me the oppoertunity to start making my own short films, which was essential to my needs

Andrew says:
was visitor part 1 your first short film?

Paul says:
no, visitor part 1 was a film that i made when doing my the next year. my first genuine short film, as i made several short productions previously, was dica, and even though it wa smade a year before visitor part 1, i still believe that it is superior in techncailities
*my degree the next year

Andrew says:
are you very fussy or self critical over your films, do you ever look back on them and wish you had done something differently?

Paul says:
when in the production stage of my films, i wouldnt say im very fussy, certainly not as fussy as kubrick was, there was time constraints when filming my earlier films which forced me to accept the not so perfect, yet sufficient shots. with my later films i would say that i am alot more fussy now yes, i take much longer to get specific shots. and i do look back at my films and wish to make changes
primarily concernin my earlier films

Andrew says:
does it get to you a lot, or do you overcome it?
do you ever think of doing a director's cut/
?

Paul says:
i do overcome it yes, i simply have to, there's nothing i can do about it now, i say to myself. but this early stage really is about developing oneself, so adapting from these potential changes, you learn to prevent them from happening again in the future, its all a work in progress, a gradual progression which exists visually throughout this early string of work
i havent actually thought about doing director's cuts, certainly not now anyway, i have ambitions to move onto different types of films now, i need to move on.

Andrew says:
so you're basically about learning from your mistakes? great way of doing things. do you see filmmaking as your primary outlet in life?

Paul says:
absolutely, i simply must create films, i love it, if a future within this subject doesnt happen, i certainly wont be happy. film and music are my primary ambitions, film most definitely is the stronger of those

Andrew says:
now let's talk about the films themselves, what is the primary inspiration for the Visitor series and how was it originally conceived?

Paul says:
i always wanted to make dark and morbid films, it was what i really wanted to make these past few years, i simply love to embrace myself in these disturbing and dark atmospheres. originally i never intened to make a visitor trilogy, i only thought i would of made one. either way i came up with the idea for part 1 by discovering the location that the end film is set in, the location was so dark and
gritty, that i simply had to make something atmospherically horrid within it, i then set out to write a script. for the stage that i was in at the time, i am still pleased with it, for what the film is in its own right, again its a working progress. my main concern with the entire visitor trilogy is the desire to explore derelict larybrnths and the atmospheric energies within those on par with
an assessment on the psychological reprecussions that occurs alongside these terrible adventures that my characters confront within the locations

Andrew says:
well it is a wonderful and atmospheric location, an abandoned church isn't it? The more I think about the third film, the more I see it as a study of rationality coming into contact with irrationality, the visiting backpacker coming into contact with the demonic phantom played by yourself. It's very simple in concept and execution, but very effective and memorable. Is this how you see it?

Paul says:
the location in the first film is an underground quarry explosive storage station, obviously now abandoned, the location in part 2 is an old farm house on the side of a mountain and the location in part 3 is derelict victorian school. i dont see it exactly as you described above no, the rationality part is interesting, although its not what my intention was, despite how reasonable that is.....
the visitor trilogy actually looks at the end result of the characters mind at the end of each film, part 1 states the characters achievement of personal enlightenment, part 2 is that of personal self-destruction and part 3 is that of personal revelation. the story for part 3 is rather subtle and simple indeed, as well as the end result, it is executed in a realist manner, rather than some...
over the top expressionistic manner. the character finds what hes looking for, evidence of paranormal activites and his revealtion of this exists by the fact that he is being haunted and hunted by an entity within the location, that entity is the main character from the first two visitor films, that is primarily the only narrative connection between all visitor films

Andrew says:
what were your main influences for those films in terms of certain films or filmmakers?

Paul says:
part 1 was certainly influenced by david lynchs eraserhead, that film always stuck with me ever since i first saw it, his execution of the atmosphere within the film on par with its surrealistic qualities was really striking for me. i dont have any influences concerning part 2 and 3, i had my own vision really that was partially based on personal experiences, which i shall not utter here in detail
generally my influences would certainly be david lynch, andrei tarkovsky and the film alien by ridley scott

Andrew says:
of course, i was just thinking about alien with the mention of isolated and derelict locations. Do you think Alien is very close to the Visitor films thematically?
Paul says:
certainly, the isolated and claustraphobic elements connect here for sure. also the theme of being haunted and/or hunted within this enclosed setting by an unknown entity is also evident here
Andrew says:
What do you think of the way cinema is today and the direction in which it is going?
Paul says:
well im certainly not a fan of the majority that comes out of hollywood, there is nothing daring or different coming from this area, it's all the same essentially. of course these films are primary for escapist pure entertainment, where some of them are good i will admit, but generally there is nothing striking within them, nothing to think about. which is why i simply admire foreign and independa
film makers, this is the ruote i want to follow

Andrew says:
yes, and there are many independent filmmakers who have broken into Hollywood and made big-budget, but great films, like Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, the Coens. Do you one day hope to make a great film within the public consciousness?

Paul says:
well i wouldnt exactly call tarantino's films great, but thats just me. and yes i certainly do, i want to make some very daring films that will cause controversy simply because they will be expressing my not to popular views on the world, i really want to express these views, i feel that i need to, either way i will be in my independant films essentially, so all is good in that department
i have ambitions to make all sorts of films, i've passed on from the dark films (for now) i want to make a long string of films that is tied with versatility

Andrew says:
so what can we expect from you in the years to come?
or will we be surprised?

Paul says:
well i would like to make many realist dramas that contain tragedy and concern depressing and devesating issues within life, i am actually planning on starting these films later this year. with these dramas i would also like to focus on urban environments that the films subject matter will take place in, i want to focus on how filthy it is and gritty. as well as that i would like to make
several thrillers and many documentaries

Andrew says:
sounds quite similar to the work of Alan Clarke. Have you seen any of his films?

Paul says:
i have of course seen scum, which i thought was fantastic

Andrew says:
so are these going to be short films, or are you hoping to make a feature soon?

Paul says:
well the first couple of dramas i intend to make as shorts, after that however, i would like to make the majority of my films longer than 60 minutes

Andrew says:
sounds great, can't wait to see them. One last question before we wrap up, which of your films is your favourite and why?

Paul says:
visitor part 2 is my favourite, it focuses alot more on the mind, the setting is more enclosed and i simply adore my acting, far better than the ''acting'' in my other films, i put alot of energy into that performance, alot of heart and mind power and executing that at the same time as making the film was very exerting, and the results are find indeed. part 2 is definitely my favourite for
personal reasons of course, although part 3 would be my favourite on the technicalities deperatment, it is such an improvement on any objective level

Andrew says:
i was most affected by part 2 on a personal, but like you I do prefer the execution of part 3. well we'll have to finish up now, thanks for your time.







Here are links to the first parts of Paul's films, soon to hit festivals, the rest can be found in his profile or in the related videos section -

VISITOR PART 1 (1)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_TT4wJJXx3s&feature=related

VISITOR PART 2 (1)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BEipRUHTTgw&feature=related

VISITOR PART 3 (1)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MbHaIfmKNyU&feature=related

Well...

...I'm pretty chuffed with my latest review, for now anyway, and it's good to finally update my very slow blog. I haven't been posting a lot due to a lack of confidence and drive to write. My lack of confidence is mainly due to that fact that I think some of my earlier posts suck a fuck, but I'm gonna press on anyway...

COMING UP

An interview with filmmaker Paul Bortowski once I figure out how to cope and paste from notepad to my blog (help would be greatly appreciated or I'll have to type it all up, if you have a solution, I will personally get in front of a webcam in tight-fitting panties and teabag you).

And hopefully another review soon.

AND

I almost forgot to mention that I have some little ambitions for this blog. I'm thinking of starting vlogging, like thespoonyexperiment, one of my favourite websites. But for now it's just a little ambition.

FILM REVIEW - La Regle de Jeu...

...

Jean Renoir's La Regle de Jeu ranks among my favourite classics, alongside Citizen Kane, Rio Bravo, and Renoir's war film La Grande Illusion. Like Citizen Kane, it's a critics' favourite that really is super-entertaining. I can't think of a single flaw with this film. The narrative flows beautifully, the performances are all fantastic and real, and Jean Renoir's direction balances comedy and tragedy, complexity and simplicity, chaos and order beautifully and effortlessly...
Very different in terms of story and character to La Grande Illusion but thematically quite similar, it's about the tragic contradictions and irrationality of human behaviour and the collapse and folly of the bourgeosie lifestyle. The story concerns a number of characters who meet up at a rich man's chateaux in the French countryside. It opens with the arrival of a hot shot pilot who has just crossed the Atlantic in record time. The press swamp him and congratulate him but he has a look of longing and disappointment on his face for the woman he loves has not arrived to greet him. She is "Madame," the wife of the rich man, very much the opposite of the pilot; gaudy and showy. The character central to the events and clashes of the film is Octave, played comically by Jean Renoir himself. He is loved by all and so his life is empty, he rushes between characters, helping everyone but ultimately failing to uphold any order. He is sad yet strong, a large, gruff bear with good intentions. He orchestrates a meeting between Madame and the pilot so that the pilot can reclaim her from the rich man. And from here we follow a host of other characters around the vast, seemingly infinite corridors of the chateaux, including a feisty but faithfuly female servant, an equally feisty poacher-turned-servant played by an actor from La Grande Illusion, can't remember his name, who has a fling with her, the ex-lover of the rich man, and various other characters. They are filmed with an almost constantly mobile camera, tracking them and making them seem like kids in a play-room, endearing yet pitiful, and somewhat mad. Another actor from La Grande Illusion, who also played the persecuted man who infiltrated bourgeois society in Bunuel's thematically similar L'Age D'Or, plays a fiery hunter and guard of the chateaux, who when faced with the prospect of his wife, the feisty servant, being stolen by the poacher, goes mad with anger, leading to his being thrown out of the chateaux and his emotional breakdown. There is conflict and confrontation in literally every frame of this film; it's a very noisy and busy film. People fight and take sides, double-cross each other, much like in a children's game, but have rules of etiquette they follow, as do children in a schoolyard. The people in this film are very real, and Renoir the brilliant writer holds deep empathy for every one of them, snapping between different points of view and filming each character internally. They chat and make small-talk, and put on facades, as is the tradition of their lifestyle, but so often find themselves lost, staring at their feet. They are broken, and disgraceful, and funny, jumbling around in a kind-of bourgeois apocalypse, with shows and ghostly ceremonies symbolising the death and emptiness of this lifestyle. But through the sacrifice of the pilot at the hands of the unknowing guard who thinks he's Octave who's running off with his wife, order is restored, and the bourgeious retreat back into their comforts, hiding from the oncoming conflict known as the Second World War. So the bourgeious values of pleasure and politeness result in the temporary downfall of a country at the hands of the Nazis. Indeed this film was banned by the Nazis, who saw it as "demoralising," as with La Grande Illusion. Both films are about humanity and the tragic contradictions and orders and barriers that plague it. In La Regle de Jeu there is a tour-de-force sequence, in which rabbits and chased out of woodland by men, only run into the line of fire of Madame and her guests. Madame deliberately misses. She is the object of desire for the pilot and her husband, and at one point of her best friend Octave. In the end one of the men is chased towards her by his desires and finds himself in the line of fire of the emotionally shattered guard. The slaughter of the rabbits is something of a precursor to this, a kind-of genocide. The rabbits run in the open and it is sheer luck that any of them survive. The characters in this film are rabbits, blinded by desire and fear, and shot down by life, victims of the bourgeious lifestyle...

The film has no heroes or villians, Renoir didn't think that way. Rather than attacking people, it attacks the circumstances of their lives; the bourgeious institution. It is a warning against the glutton and idleness of this lifestyle. It is passionate and energetic, and one of the best films ever made; dark yet light, walking a tightrope between madness and meaning; an absolute dream of a film.
As Octave would say, "there is one thing that is terrible, and that is everyone has his reasons." That is the tragic meaning at the heart of this film...

Sunday, 28 June 2009

No posts for a LONG time...

...but at the moment I'm trying to get an interview with filmmaker Paul Bortowski up.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Apocalypse Now VS Apocalypse Now Redux...






VS






I'm going to have to go with the Redux. Why? It's far more lucid, expansive, shocking, funny, detailed and insightful. The original in comparison feels like a rushed job, but who could blame Coppola for wanting to end the film that had almost cost him his mental well-being and his family life? The original is spectacular but very flawed, and it feels like Coppola was simply using a Vietnam backdrop to abstractly explore the human mind, instead of really portraying the war in any great detail. Some argue that that the former approach was better, that it gave the film a more personal and surreal feel, but I think it's quite narrow, simply following Willard's path further and further into darkness and then having him triumph and leave into an unseen light. In the original we are given no insight into the secondary characters. They are just along for the ride and don't have much attention paid to them. As compelling as Willard is, I was longing to learn more about the others. They were merely seen having banter with each other and reacting to things. Of course you could argue that it's only appropriate, as it's Willard's story and is told from his viewpoint. But again I think that's narrow. Now to be fair, the Redux doesn't improve on this greatly. We are given a lot more time with them but they are still often just reacting to things and squabbling and having banter. But these scenes do in fact give more insight into Willard and the way he is socially, as they show him interacting and growing to like and care for his companions. It makes his character more touching and human.

Now while I really like the original, one of the problems I had with it, that perhaps came from me, I'm not certain, was that it was so much fun. Was it supposed to be showing the attraction to war and destruction? Perhaps. And it did balance that out a little with truly shocking moments of moral horror. But at the same time I felt that the film was more attracted to the evil of the bombastic and lunatic Col. Kilgore than repelled by it. And I also felt that perhaps it was attracted to the chaos. It's such a contradictory film, and I'm not sure some of the ambiguities that form are deliberate. It portrays horror and death and chaos and insanity with a kind of savage and luminous beauty and grace, lending the film real artistic perversity. So in short, I didn't know what to think of the film. Now many, myself included, consider this a good thing, that the film is what you make of it. I usually consider this a good thing, but I felt that weakens the film and gives it a half-hearted feel thematically. The Redux however casts aside any ideas that Coppola was attracted to the war and the chaos, as there are some truly shocking, disturbing and grim moments that the original sorely missed. For instance, in one brilliant scene, they come across a medical encampment where the Playboy bunnies seen earlier at the USO show are staying, and Lance and Chef, horny as hell having been out-of-contact with the female for a long time, decide to spend some quality time with them. While the bunnies talk about their personal lives the men grope them and treat them like dolls, putting fantasy wigs on them and putting them in poses. The scene is blackly humorous in parts, with one of the bunnies talking openly about how she feels lonely and can't truly communicate with men, while Lance, oblivious to what she's saying, gropes and feels her, glowering over her body. The scene reaches a truly disturbing climax as the bunny tells of how she was once made to do something against her will, as Lance corners her. Then a trunk falls over revealing a dead body inside, and she breaks down. Lance takes advantage of the emotional weakness this horror is causing and proceeds to have sex with her. As with the helicopter attack sequence the scene alternates nimbly between black comedy and horror. Indeed the Redux is much funnier than the original, and Willard is actually given a light touch, shown laughing and getting into shenanigans with the others. The mess and chaos of the Vietnam war is just given more of a shockingly absurdist edge.

And finally, the order of the footage in the Redux seems to make more sense than that of the original. Some have argued that the new narrative order of the Redux detracts from the flow of the story, and goes off in too many tangents. But really there's just a lot more happening. The original went for narrative simplicity, with Willard descending deeper and deeper into hell down the river, but let's be honest, this isn't hugely interesting. Some argue that it has a dreamlike quality. Maybe it does, but what good is that? The narrative of the redux and the addition of whole new scenes, like the French Plantation scene, gives it more authenicity and says much more about the Vietnam war. The original film naively avoids any real political ambiguity, instead opting to portray those in charge of the war as lying hypocrites and gung-ho loonies and those under their command as hedonistic, susceptible, foolish teenagers. So the original feels narrowly, adolescently and nihilistically anarchistic in parts. But in the Redux, the French Plantation scene offers a political angle on the story, as they come into contact with a long-standing colony of French people living by the river near the border to Cambodia. And so there ensues a dinner sequence in which the French men argue with Willard over their right to live in Vietnam and over the futility of the war. The differences between the American way of thinking and that of the French are made clear, but are overcome when Willard has a brief love affair with an elegant French woman.

The final scenes at the Kurtz compound are greatly improved. Brando is given more screen time, and more of his character is revealed. Many say that this ruins the mystery of his character and the aura of insanity and evil he gives off, but this is a really adolescent argument to make. Why should certain interesting aspects of Kurtz be left out for the sake of putting on a show? Earlier, the French woman says there are two sides to a soldier, one that loves, and one that kills. Kurtz is capable of the worst atrocities, beheading hundreds and ordering hangings, yet he is shown playing with children. Instead of rambling all the time as in the original, he is seen speaking with a clarity and calm, suggesting some sort of alternate sanity. So these scenes actually add to the mystery of Kurtz. The finale is the same as that of the original, ambiguous, meaningful and unsettling. And the ending to the original needed no improvement or change, only the narrative before it. And so with the newly arranged narrative and extra footage, the Redux is by far the superior film, much fuller, more disturbing, and far more convincing...

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Seeing as I'm trying some different things now...

...going off in tangents, I might do one or two music posts, and another film review to balance it out...

Friday, 29 May 2009

I'm back...

...and having gone through a transitional period I've reworked my blog and deleted things I thought sucked. I'll also be lengthening a couple of older posts, and am still working on my TWBB review...

Thursday, 28 May 2009

FILM REVIEW - Crash (1996)...


...

David Cronenberg's Crash may be one of the finest films about sex in modern society. That statement may seem bold, but unlike the film I'm not going to understate or use any subtlety whatsoever.

The film has a real history; hugely controversial the world over, banned many times, and reviled by many who did see it. I first heard about the film in a movie magazine. There was the shot of James Spader in his car, stiff, eyes wide, Deborah Kara Unger next to him, a suspicious expression on her taught features. And some kind of mysterious orange glow in the background. Immediately that image struck me, and I wanted to see the film. That's happened before with me; it happened when I saw a picture of Jacob Reynolds eating spaghetti in a bathtub and it happened here. Somehow this image reminded me of the shot in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, in which a light looms over a stunned Richard Dreyfuss' face as he gawks over his dashboard. Indeed the films could have a lot in common. They're both about alienated individuals brought together by a mystery and a singular belief. Only Crash is quietly pessimistic and it's characters somewhat nihilistic.
People who haven't seen the film may be curious as to what in the film managed to cause such a stir back in the 90s, but I'll tell you right now - car crash sex. Just the idea was no doubt enough to get people up in arms, people who probably never saw the movie. And the concept is pretty disturbing, the idea of people achieving sexual gratification from potentially life-destroying events. But let me tell you now, the film is in no way sensationalist or attention-seeking. Rather it is modest, austere and subdued. And perhaps this is what makes the film truly disturbing, the naked voyeurism, the cold, icy look of the film, the distance of the performances and the idea that people now connect more with machines than each other...


But isn't machinery being fetishized, in car shows with hot women sliding their butts over bonnets, in adverts with sexy girls driving cars?

The film opens inconspicuously in an aircraft hanger, Howard Shore's eerie, mechanical theme echoeing of the aircraft hulls. We see a beautiful blonde ice-queen making out with her flying instructor against an aircraft. He proceeds to kiss her buttocks while she, pressed firmly against the plane, starts licking the metallic surface. Right away the main idea of the film is expressed effortlessly. Then we are in a film set, where the crew are waiting for the producer's stamp of approval on a steadicam shot, and eventually start hammering on his door at the most innappropriate time, right when he's riding the camera-girl. All of the characters in this film have meaningless, unsatisfying sex; they are basically sexual car wrecks, alienated and disconnected by their soulless, emotionless sexual adventures, condemned to a world where sex is and life is cheap. The movie producer, James Ballard, is the husband of Catherine, the ice-queen we saw earlier in the aircraft hanger, and they share their sexual "experiences" of the day with each other as if they were talking about work. They stand on a balcony overlooking a vast freeway, abundant with cars, perhaps symbolic of their lives; infinite, meaningless, mechanical, detached and constantly set on cruise control. The dialogue is anti-naturalistic, instead kept strange and constantly tying in with the theme. But it is far from a preachy, message-movie, and is instead a surgical exploration of mutated sexual desires.


Not long into the film Ballard is involved in a car crash and made aware of his own vulnerability; endangered. He is sexually awakened in the strangest way when the woman in the car opposite (Holly Hunter) reveals a breast. In the scenes preceding this we meet the mysterious Vaughan (Elias Koteas; brilliant), a full-bred mutant of sexual car wreckage, a sexual machine, both captivating and frightening. Right away he starts scanning Ballard with his large protruding eyes, going over every detail of his injuries with a morbid desire. Helen Remington, the equally icy and detached doctor played by a highly watchable Holly Hunter, comes into contact with Ballard, and he drives her, in exactly the same type of car as the one he crashed, along the freeway. But things go awry as he suddenly whips off his seatbelt and then swerves dangerously out of control. It reminds me of the scene in Bunuel's Belle de Jour in which Catherine Deneuve keeps dropping and spilling things in the bathroom uncontrollably. They keep going however, and end up having spontaneous sex in a car park. Later she tells of all the men she's had sex with in cars. They both become aware of their newfound fetish and go to see Vaughan perform a mesmerizing re-enactment of the crash that killed James Dean. Vaughan is friendly, and a natural, charismatic showman. Also a homosexual, evidenced later in the film but hinted at here, as he strokes his stuntman and proceeds get off with him in a car crash. After the police arrive, everyone scarpers, Ballard and Remington following Vaughan and his stuntman. At his place we meet Gabrielle, played by Rosanna Arquette, a woman turned into something of a cyborg due to a terrible accident. Here Ballard strikes up a friendship with Vaughan and he shows Ballard his "project," concerning the "reshaping of the human body." Like a lot of crazy people, he does make sense on one level or another, but really his aim is to have sex with Ballard in his beastly automobile. First he chases off his wife in a predatory manner, in something akin to a threat of car rape. She recognizes Vaughan's intent and also Ballard's desires, and when she brings Vaughan up during sex, Ballard suddenly gets wild. The wild sexual game of this film is far from subtle, but it's not in-your-face either. In one scene earlier Catherine masturbates Ballard while talking about the car wreckage. In another Ballard sticks his penis in Gabrielle's car crash wound, and they have sex in the wreckage of their lives. Not exactly subtle, but illustrative and blackly comic. The film itself could be seen as a black comedy about sexual power play, with Vaughan molesting Catherine in the back of his beast as Ballard stares in the rear-view mirror. In one stand-out, tour-de-force scene they find a pile-up on the freeway, and wander around, detached completely from the chaos around them, taking pictures and posing on the car wrecks. Cronenberg makes masterful use of sounds and image, a red glow permeating the wide expression of the protagonist, fire and blood consuming the people they snap and sit with. The performances are all round excellent; comic, understated and giving the film a subtlety somewhat lacking elsewhere. It reaches it's disturbing climax when Vaughan and Ballard make car crash love, and then Vaughan is killed. Ballard is left with the wreckage, and to the wreckage he clambers, oblivious to his wife lying electrified next to it. Then he notices her through the steam and metal and they have sex, Ballard uttering the line, "Maybe next time," as if they were trying for a baby. It's a disturbing and ambiguous ending, much like the ending to Belle de Jour; surreal and fantastical and hard to figure out. I'm not sure even Cronenberg knows, but how would he? The film poses many questions but leaves them for us to answer. But there's the vital flaw with this film, it doesn't really reach a discernible point, instead ultimately receding into the traffic. But it still stands as the film that dared to fetishize fatal car accidents and wounds, and as the film that truly explored society's mechanical, soulless, masochistic, detached sexuality...

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

COMPUTER GAME REVIEW: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring...

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I've been playing some games recently on the PC, old games I played as a kid or young teen, kind-of a nostalgia thing. Anyway, one of my favourite games as a kid was The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, an RPG adventure game based not on the film but on the wonderful book. And I hugely prefer the book to the film. In fact, now I can't really be bothered with the film. I think it's because the film is so different from my imagination of the book. For the most part anyway. I imagined the book to be gothic and creepy, whereas the film was loud and dramatic. I still did like the film a lot when I was younger though. But now come to think of it, when I re-read the book, I realise that my favourite part of it since a child was the first half of it. Basically, when the hobbits are in the shire, hiding from the black riders, navigating the old forest, and then traversing the wild lands towards Rivendell. Why? I'm not sure. I just love the creepy suspense in some of the shire scenes, as well as the banter of the hobbits and the sense of adventure and youth, and the mystery of my favourite chapter; "The Old Forest," missing from the film but a wonderful chapter. So this game is completely different in tone from the film and is closer to my imagination of the books, so you can see why it would have really appealed to me as a kid. I loved it as a kid, but recently I played it again, and while it brought back memories and was still quite wonderful to play, I realise now that it's flawed, and, well, not that good, but I was suckered in by a cool premise and couldn't wait to explore Middle Earth. Let's delve into it...

Okay, so it begins with an FMV of Galadriel narrating above the Mirror. In the Mirror we see the forging of the ring blah blah blah, and then Gandalf approaching Bag End and the ring in Frodo's hand. The FMV is a little bland and Frodo in it looks nothing like he does in the graphics of the game, but let's move on. It then cuts to a game cut-scene, and right away you notice that it looks wonderful. I mean, the graphics aren't great, but from an artistic point of view it's detailed and beautifully rendered, with rays of light beaming in on Gandalf and Frodo from the window. Gandalf and Frodo on the other hand, move and talk like robots. But that's not a problem. This scene is basically Gandalf telling Frodo about the ring (very suddenly and abruptly I must say). Right away you'll notice that the voices are really lacking in emotion, and that Frodo's voice is kind-of gay, but that doesn't really matter, and you get used to it. It ends up with Samwise being caught eavesdropping and then we cut to narration by Frodo, telling of the months passing with no sign of Gandalf. As in the book, it is many months before he decides to set out. The game begins in Bag End, where there is very little to do but get the deed and key for Bag End to sell to the Sackville Bagginses. The music here is nothing special, sounding like your average adventure game music. When you leave Bag End however, the music changes into this nice little score to fit the nice little setting of the shire. The controls for the game here are fine and easy, and moving is quick and efficient. You can talk to people, like Sam and some of the other hobbits. Sam tells you to meet Merry and Pippin at the Green Dragon in Bywater. Before doing so you can explore Hobbiton a bit and talk to other people, and complete small tasks which give you a feel for some of the other controls of the game, like throwing rocks. There are shiny mushrooms about, which you can collect. You can use them for healing later in the game. One of the things you notice here is that Hobbiton is a tiny little town, and can't be explored much, and this is one of the biggest problems of the whole game. It's too damn linear. In a game like this you should be able to explore Middle Earth at length. So you set out across the bridge to Bywater, and...it crashes. Well, sometimes, which is why if you're playing on the PC you have to save very often. Anyway, if it doesn't crash it fades out then in onto the path to Bywater. You can talk to other Hobbits in Bywater but this is really pointless. There are other tasks to be done, taking you into other environments and even down to Maggot's farm, but these tasks are optional, and if you've played the game before it's best to just skip them. So once you go to the Green Dragon and arrange to meet Merry and Pippin at Maggot's farm (not how it happened in the book) and sell Bag End to Lobelia you go back to Bag End, get the ring, and then suddenly it's night, and the shire looks very different and much more playable. The sounds effects are wonderful and eerie, with wolves howling, crickets and other things. You go down to see the Gaffer and suddenly come upon a black rider. Suddenly, the game gets really cool. Once you give the key to the Gaffer it becomes a stealth mission, and pretty hard until you figure it out. Not only that, but creepy, the dark riders riding here and there, casting shadows over everything. Once the first two are passed, you come across one guarding the bridge, and you have to distract it by climbing up onto a ledge and throwing a rock down the road. This is a great and atmospheric little bit of the game, especially if you're playing for the first time, but like the rest of the game, it is extremely easy once you figure out what to do, which is a bummer for something so fun. That's another thing about the game, they could have made it so much harder, and so much fuller, because as it is, the game is really short once you figure things out. The music on this level is wonderful though, and really adds to the creepy atmosphere. This is one of the best levels of the game, and you'll see why later. In Bywater you find Shirriff Robin being attacked by a wolf and you have to protect him and kill the wolf. Remember that from the book!?! I sure as hell don't, but if it fills the level a little, fine. Once that's done, you go to into the country a bit, and come across three wolves. You can fight them if you want, which is fun and quite difficult, or you can learn of a not-so-hidden tactic in this game: the runner. Yes, this game is so easy you can basically do a runner from one end of often an entire map to another, past dozens of enemies, and what's more, without getting a friggin' scratch. Really it exposes just how easy the game is. Is it deliberate? Did the creators know you could do that? If so, shame on them for making a game so piss-easy. I figured this out when I was younger, and lazily just decided to do a runner later in the game. Once you're away from the wolves, you come into Green Country, and down a hill you see another dark rider. This one's a little harder to figure out, but there's only one so you don't have to worry about timing. Again, this one involves distraction with rocks, only a little more complicated. Then once you're past it you cross a bridge into Maggot's farm. Gee, the Shire sure is small, Frodo traversed it in ten minutes! What's more, this is the only stealth part of the game, unless you include an optional quest earlier involving Maggot's dogs. It was fun. Could have been sooo much harder, but it was kinda neat, I'll give it that. At the end of this level, you meet the other hobbits and enter The Old Forest. Wait, that was quick! What about Buckland!?! Even just a cut-scene would have sufficed. In the narration, Frodo mentions it a little, and then we're straight into The Old Forest. But wait, isn't this supposed to be faithful to the books? It kinda is in atmosphere, but other than that they just change things or skip things that could have been fun and could have made the game a little fuller! And getting through the Shire in ten minutes, gimme a break!! The maps for the most part are tiny! And another thing they missed out, the elves the hobbits meet in the Shire. That would have at least been something more.

But fuck it, we're in The Old Forest and Sam, Merry and Pippin are lost in amongst the trees. Again, this level is awesome in terms of atmosphere, but little else. You run down the path to find a tree blocking your way. When first playing this I didnt know where the hell to go, but then I figured out you just run back up and then down again and the tree is gone. What, no puzzle? Frodo exlaims - "This forest! It's as if it had a mind of it's own!" Yay, hopefully there will be more trees to block my way, and some puzzles related to them. Oops, my mistake the rest of the level is dedicated to running through a small and easy maze and fighting giant spiders. Wait, what!?! Giant spiders in The Old Forest!?!?! Since when!? Ah screw it, maybe there were and the book just missed them out. Yeah. So instead of getting any puzzles involving the trees, you have to run through a fairly linear maze of a forest fighting annoying spiders. This is where the game starts to get repetitive. Spider after spider after spider. It's as if they focused entirely on creating a wonderful atmosphere but didn't put any effort into the formation of the levels or what's in them. Once you find the other hobbits there's a cut-scene where they set up camp. After this you find yourself in the Withywindle valley where you basically just run for a bit through it, then find yourself at the boss; The Old Willow. Like the rest of the game, once you figure this out, it's laughably easy. And then you come to a cut-scene where...oh hell yeah, it's Tom!! One of my favourite characters! And then he tells you to find Lillies for Goldberry and leaves you. Great. And you come to probably the most infuriatingly repetitive part of the game, so much so that instead of killing the spiders I just take a runner through it and get the lillies, then go back to Tom. You have to talk to him, but this is no small task when he's marching around all the time, and the controls get a bit jarring here. But never mind, you talk to him and find yourself at his house, where he and Goldberry talk for a bit in a cool cut-scene that will please fan-boys. And then some narration where instead of exploring the Bombadil household and having some fun, Frodo basically talks about it, and then we leave after Tom gives us a chant. Great. I mean, it would have been nice to have at least some cut-scenes in the house, you know with some of the key parts of the story so far. But I can't really complain, I mean I wasn't expecting a movie, was I, I was expecting a highly playable, full game. Yeah! So then it's basically running up a hill fighting wolves, until you reach the barrow-downs, and there's another short cut-scene around a campfire. The next level is basically fighting ghosts in the Barrow Downs, repetitive but again fun if only for the atmosphere and hearing the ghosts fart when you hit them. There's a really cool boss at the end of the level, that's actually quite a challenge. Well not really, just more of a challenge than the others. You get another scene with Tom where he chants the Wight away and gives you blades from the Barrow Down before sending you to Bree.

And this is a cool level, where you meet Aragorn and get to play as him for the first time, going out to find a missing Merry. This might be my favourite level if only because there's an actual variety of enemies and they're all funny creeps and fun to fight. The atmosphere is also cool in this level. The first thing you notice about Aragorn is how grim and strange he is. He has a gruff voice and goes around collecting melons and logs to create decoys of the Hobbits, and once he collects each item he makes comments that sound almost sexual - "Aaah, these melons will make fine substitutes for hobbit heads," he says, sounding horny as hell over his new hobbit sex-dolls. Once you finish this level, you go to another cool level, Weathertop.

But here repetition becomes evident too, with Aragorn running around killing Wargs. And the atmosphere is awesome too, with rolling hills that look like they go on for miles. However, they do not, it's a completely linear level that when playing you so often wish you could explore. Once you reach Weathertop, you find for the first time orcs, and they're quite hard, surrounding you and bashing you with clubs. So you climb high up Weathertop and again you can see cool scenery that fucking should be explorable. You get to the top and for the first time fight a troll, which is easy if you use your bow and arrows. But here's the problem that I have with the rest of the game. Fighting hordes. I remember first playing this game, it seemed hard and quite long, but now I think it's only because of the shitty frame rate my computer had back then. And anyway, it shouldn't be about fighting hordes, it should be about exploring Middle Earth and doing all the things that are in the book. And what's more, they take you to Lothlorien, which looks awesome, but give you no room to explore, just three rooms where you can talk to people and a ladder which leads you into a cut-scene. Why not just make the whole thing a cut-scene intead of having us pointlessly walking from A to B!?! What a waste. So the game, once completed, has little replay value, and isn't very fun in the second half. It's a quirky little game that's worth a try for Tolkien fans, even if just for the atmosphere and meeting Tom Bombadil. Moria is pretty cool, with a hard puzzle and a harder boss you have to be careful with, but the last level is just racing through hordes of enemies and fighting a stupid Nazgul, which is easy might I add. The only bonus in the game that might make you wanna replay it is meeting Gollum on the shore of the Anduin, where he gives you a fish to slap orcs with, killing them almost instantly, and making it easier and more pointless. Seriously, that's the only kind of bonus this game gives you. So the game should have been much harder (I completed it in three hours), much longer, and a lot less linear. Oh, and truer to the book. I mean, honestly, in the last level you have to fight a Nazgul on Amon Hen. Remember that from the book?

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Yeesh...

...I haven't updated for fuckin' ages. I have been busy revising and getting stoned though...anyway, I'm gonna do a There Will Be Blood review very soon and then maybe I'll get momentum up...I'm still not happy with most of the shit in my blog, and the way I said it...the only review I'm satisfied with is my Mulholland Dr. review...I dunno, maybe I'm being too pernickety...

Sunday, 5 April 2009

FILM REVIEW - The Player...

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Robert Altman's The Player is nothing short of grotesque in it's fluid exposure of a void known as Hollywood where people, blind to the emptiness of their lives, talk bullshit to themselves in the form of movie pitches and movie gossip; injected with pretension and bitterness. But there is one person who has his eyes open; Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins), a movie executive who spends his life listening to awful movie pitches and pondering over threatening postcards he receives in the mail...

The Player is not often an easy film to digest. It's cold, detached, and the only interesting and half-likeable character in it is a murderer. The story is not hugely interesting, but arresting and refreshing in it's simplicity; a movie executive receives threatening postcards from a writer he didn't get back to. They meet after a movie and then go to a bar where an argument ensues. After they leave, they get into a fight, and the writer ends up dead. But the postcards continue to come as he becomes infatuated with the writer's ex; a painter. So it's a typical murder/guilt/blackmail story, or it would be if being pitched like in this movie. So what lifts this film beyond that? The answer: Robert Altman; plain and simple. His stylish direction injects this film with a suffocating sense of claustrophobia and paranoia. Aside from the snappy, natural and convicing dialogue (much of it improvised), this is a truly visual work. Jean Lepine's cinematography is naturalistic, but manages to capture a kind-of cold, piercing heat. But perhaps the defining visual aspect of this film is it's camerawork. The opening 8-minute tracking shot takes us around a movie studio, from Griffin Mill's office, to a tour guide, to various studio execs, and back to Mill again, as he receives his daily postcard, and looks back at us through the blinds with the eyes of a frightened child. The camera follows Mill constantly; sometimes he is obscured by shadowy Hollywood people, their constant whispering like the sound of flies eating a corpse, and sometimes he is alone and confessional, with his equally detached new girlfriend, played by Greta Scacchi. Indeed Griffin Mill seems to be suffocated by these false, sad people, and finds that the only person as genuine (but cynical) as him is this woman. Have these two achieved clarity beyond the petty and phony world? Or are they shamelessly exploitative of the people around them? The film is full of ambiguities, twists and turns, like a movie. It fools us, and leaves us mistrustful of what we've seen. It is infatuated with film, like the Hollywood it portrays. Yet as stylistically brilliant as it is, many of the stylistic touches become very repetitive, as if Altman, who hadn't seen success for so long, were desperately clinging onto the brilliance he had found, and ultimately lost sight of any clear point. For I don't think the film adds up to much whatsoever. As an ambiguous exploration of the nothingness that plagues Hollywood it works, but it doesn't climb any mountains. The use of real Hollywood people in cameos is bold and audacious, but like the movie referencing and name-dropping it becomes dreadfully repetitive. I also think the film wastes some great characters; Vincent D'Onoforio's bitter, angry and unsuccessful screenwriter, Whoopi Goldberg's light-hearted but morally lax detective, even it's main character isn't explored with much depth. Perhaps it's because this film is so misanthropic, it doesn't want to explore the people it watches. The camera is a ghost, hiding amongst the people it curses; Griffin Mill's ghost. This film seems trapped in the world it supposedly "attacks," and does nothing to break free. Instead we're treated to an ironic ending in which this film itself is pitched to Mill by someone who could be the real screenwriter who threatened him at the beginning...or maybe the film is a hollow dream in Mill's mind based off the pitch he just heard. Anyway, Mill goes back to a beautiful Hollywood home to be greeted by his beautiful wife (Greta Scacchi) and they both live the Hollywood dream, rising above the reality of their existence and into a movie existence. The film starts off so promisingly then falls in love with it's own misanthropy and complete lack of empathy, and like Griffin Mill it rises into respectability and success in the Hollywood it portrays...and a satire shouldn't be respectable and shouldn't be praised by the community it's against...

So the film fails as a satire and succeeds as a lighthearted, self-conscious comedic sneer at Hollywood. It was Altman's comeback, and the assuredness of the film shows that he knew it would be his comeback. So finally the film is entertaining, technically brilliant, subtle, stylish, grotesque, detached, and lazily half-hearted and accepting...

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

TWIN PEAKS Season 1 - A brief overview... *CONTAINS SPOILERS*

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A couple of nights ago I watched the entire first season of Twin Peaks...in one night...the next day my eyes were burning, but it was worth it. Twin Peaks is funny, sad, terrifying, exciting, addictive and sometimes moving. It is a high-point in television history, paving the way for shows like The X-Files, and more than that, it managed to integrate wild surrealism into popular culture and made great auteur David Lynch a household name. By keeping strong surrealist style in balance with great story and character, Lynch managed to suck people into a world television had never harbored before. Critic David Thomson said in his entry for Luis Bunuel in the Biographical Dictionary of Film that surrealism is best suited to a mainstream audience, as it is both highly escapist and highly relatable. Twin Peaks may just be evidence of his claim, although the films of Luis Bunuel and David Lynch have never found a mainstream audience...but enough focus on the cultural impact of it, let's take a look at the show itself...


The Pilot episode - This is where it all started. Directed by David Lynch and created by Mark Frost and Lynch, this first episode is tight and dark, keeping the black humour and wild surrealism restrained (they had to convince studio people that this would be accessible). After the hypnotic opening credits (the robin a reference to his earlier Blue Velvet; thematically similar), we are see the somber face of an Asian woman, humming quietly to herself as if sensing that something isn't right. Then we meet Pete (played by Lynch favourite Jack Nance), a decent but hen-pecked man and his bitter wife. He goes out fishing, and this is where everything kicks into place, with the discovery of a body wrapped in plastic on the beach. Sheriff Harry Truman (shouldn't be too hard to remember) is alerted and arrives with his emotionally frail and endearingly simple deputy Andy and forensics man Will Hayward. They then discover her identity; Laura Palmer, local prom-queen, known by everyone and loved by mostly everyone. Shocked and appalled, they then decide to contact her parents. Then there are two particularly gut-wrenching scenes, the first in which her mother searches the house for her and calls around asking for her to no avail, the second in which her father, having been interrupted from a business meeting with Norwegian tourism folk, speaks to the distraught mother on the phone, only to be interrupted by the Sheriff, who informs him. The phone drops, and he and his wife break down emotionally. Then we are introduced to Bobby Briggs, Captain of the high-school football time and supposed "girlfriend" of Laura, who is making out with ditsy waitress Shelley Johnston in his car. A police car rushes past them and at the sight of a metal truck parked outside Shelley's Bobby freezes in fear. Then it takes us to Twin Peaks high-school, where the register is being called out in Laura's class. Bobby arrives late and is called into the office, while deputy Andy arrives at Laura's class asking for him, also informing the teacher of what has happened. In a harrowing sequence, Laura's best friend Donna Hayward (daughter of Will Hayward, the forensics man), senses something at the arrival of the deputy and the reaction on the teacher's face when told the news. Then inexplicably, a girl is seen out the window, running and screaming. Donna, her eyes widening, glances round at James Hurley; secret boyfriend of Laura and biker. Then she looks at the empty chair beside her and burst into tears. Meanwhile, Bobby is being interviewed by Deputy Tommy "Hawk" Hill and Andy, oblivious to what has happened. Upon hearing the news, he reacts aggressively, declaring some kind of phoney love for her. Then he is taken away. The principle, also emotionally distraught, makes the announcement to the school and lets everyone leave for the day. James rides away on his bike after seeing his uncle, "Big Ed" Hurley. Then another teenage girl is seen wandering across a bridge, tortured, raped and severely truamatised. And then finally we are introduced to the series' main character; Special Agent Dale Cooper, an eccentric hypomaniac who talks to an invisible entity known as "Diane" through a recorder. We first see him driving into Twin Peaks, admiring of the Douglas Firs and ecstatic about a slice of cherry pie he recently had. He then joins forces with the sheriff, and the adventures that follow this brilliant pilot are hilarious, tragic and mysterious...

(Feeling excited now? Look it out!)

But what makes this show work so well, even to this day? Well first of all, it has a great setting; a beautiful, autumnal town high up near the mountains, where the air is fresh but tainted with corruption. Secondly, it features a great cast playing great, compelling characters. The standouts include Kyle MacLachlan (Blue Velvet) as the hilarious, sharp, trustworthy FBI man, Michael Ontkean as the headstrong sheriff, Sherilyn Fenn as the bratty and manipulative but charming and seductive Audrey Horne, Lara Flynn Boyle as the sweet Donna Hayward, and James Marshall as the confused biker outcast James Hurley. We follow these characters through a story filled with love, loss and mystery. While Cooper, the Sheriff and his deputies investigate intensively and (mostly) professionally, the kids pursue their own line of enquiry into the death of their beloved Laura, learning hurtful and sad things about her. Laura. Laura Palmer, the dark, corrupt core of Twin Peaks, a symbol of the false sense of happiness and stability in Twin Peaks, a face as pure as water but tainted with sadness and desperation. Who was Laura Palmer, really? Will we ever know? Will the sight of her pale green face lying on the beach haunt us forever, eating at us like the worms inside her corpse? The mystery that is Laura Palmer is only seen in flashbacks and movies, her hair a golden blonde, her smile white and pure, her bright blue eyes flashing. Who couldn't love her and protect her, no matter her corrupt and lost soul? Sherilyn Fenn looks right for the part, and overplays it perfectly, as Laura only exists in memories and photos...
However, the show is not perfect. It drags sometimes, particularly with the story of the Horne brothers and their exploits. Lynch was away promoting Wild At Heart sometime into season 1, so he can't be blamed for the odd misfiring plot strand...

But so many episodes are simply impeccable. They bear his trademark style; bold and frightening dream sequences, brilliant use of sound and image to create mood, visual and aural beauty and humour as black as midnight on a moonless night. The story unfolds with effortless precision, and the broken and disturbed characters are filmed with the same stark nakedness and soft tenderness that suffused his masterpiece Blue Velvet...

Highly recommended, even if you're not a Lynch fan...bewarned though, it is addictive...

Sunday, 15 March 2009

ENTRY no. 2 - Harmony Korine...

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Harmony Korine was that rarest of things in the latter half of the 90s, a real trouble-man, a challenge to the industry in the media spotlight, much like Orson Welles in the early 40s. What that media attention might have done to him at such a young age is unclear, but one thing is clear; something kept him away from filmmaking for years. Was it his aborted "Fight Harm," which could have been a great physical comedy? Or did the controversy over his work and his place in the industry get to him? Who knows? It doesn't matter anyway, because he has a new film out, one that looks to follow the same themes as his other films, but in a softer tone...
Korine grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, where he encountered many people and places that would have a huge influence on his later artistic output. In his teen years he and the family moved to New York, where Korine became immersed in skate culture and movies. Then he met the photographer Larry Clark, who asked him to write a screenplay based on his experiences with the youth of the place. The result was KIDS, a film written by Korine and directed by Larry Clark. It was hugely controversial, and Korine was thrust into the media spotlight. Utilising his fame and success, he decided to make his feature debut, using the contacts he'd made after KIDS, and the people and places he'd encountered during his Nashville upbringing...

The result was Gummo, an epic collage of life in a place called Xenia, Ohio in the aftermath of a tornado. It was shot in and around Nashville, in authentic squalor, with a huge cast of mostly non-professionals. The film is a startling masterpiece, about a forgotten people and culture lying in the sub-conscious of America. It is energetic, audacious, tender and human. There are sequences of hypnotic beauty and power, as when a frail kid in bunny ears kicks at the fencing separating him from the busy flow of traffic in a bridgeway over a motorway, or when a blonde teenager lies on a sofa staring up at us in a sexually inviting way, her eyes filled with longing and desperation, set to the distorted sound of children singing Buddy Holly's "Everyday." The caused a storm of controversy for it's depictions of depravity; cat-killing, the suggested sex between a teenage boy and a down-syndrome prostitute, etc. Yet these allegations are unfounded, as most scenes are entirely suggestive; the film is not exploitative in any way. It also gained acclaim and derision critically; Janet Maslin of the New York Times calling it "the worst film of the year," and on the other end Bernardo Bertolluci calling it "the one revolutionary film of the 90s." Both these comments may be compliments to Korine's purpose as a filmmaker. So after making one of the great debuts of cinema, what came next for Korine? His next project came fast, something deeply personal to Korine; based on the life of his Uncle, a schizophrenic. It was made under the tight restrictions of the dogme95 manifesto, shot entirely on handheld and with threadbare production design. In some ways, Julien Donkey-Boy was a huge departure from Gummo, using a minimal cast and muted tone, yet with it's improvisatory quality and theme of isolation it is in the same way. It seems far more technical than Gummo, and sometimes this is distracting. Yet it is also highly inventive and perhaps contains more emotional gravity than Gummo by focusing more tightly on character and story. It is beautifully acted, with a cast comprised of both non-actors (a blind ice-skating girl and a black rapping albino), and actors (Ewen Bremner, whom Korine admired in Mike Leigh's Naked, Chloe Sevigny, his then-muse who had large parts in KIDS and Gummo, and Werner Herzog, a huge admirer of Korine and his Gummo). It is much harder to watch than Gummo, yet had a strong emotional pull on me. It switches from calm, to shocking, to frustrating, to sad, sometimes in the same scene. It has a kind-of cold, icy beauty to it, relying on a visual palette of blues and greys, ranging from somber to luminous, from Julien stooping over the body of a child he just murdered, to his lover/sister practicing ballet in her room. What's most interesting in this film is the way the family functions. Korine used hidden spy-cameras to film the reactions of bystanders to the behaviour of Julien and his family. To those looking in from outside, this family is odd, freakish, and dysfunctional, but Korine takes us inside, and asks us what's so freakish and odd about these people. They function outside the realm of social order, yet ultimately function as a family, only in a way we're not used to. This bears much thematic similarity to Gummo, which is very much about a community that functioned this way...

Two such fascinating and affecting films in such a short time bespeak a huge creative talent. With his films Korine gave a voice to the forgotten and abandoned realms of society. And then something got to him, and he stayed away from the medium for a number of years, apparently travelling alone around Europe. But then a new film went into production, about celebrity impersonators living in a commune in the Highlands, and skydiving nuns. The idea of a commune of unappreciated and perhaps rejected people is reminiscent of the family in Julien Donkey-Boy, or the backwater town in Gummo. That Korine can approach the same highly personal subject matter repeatedly, but each time in a completely original way, is testament to his creativity and feeling for the rejected and isolated. Having personally been a fan for quite some time, I'm still not quite sure what to make of him or his films...and maybe that's the way Korine likes it...

Monday, 23 February 2009

Yeesh...

...all reviews for a while now, time I wrote an entry on a filmmaker or actor or something...well that might not happen for bit, I'm rewatching Pickpocket (hurrah!) and might write a review...

FILM REVIEW - Peeping Tom...

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This film is so many things. It's disturbing, hilarious, shocking, sad and last but not least one of the great films about movies. It forces us to look at ourselves and shows the real danger in filming and being filmed; highly relevant in this age of surveillance and camera phones. The history of the film is interesting and also quite funny. After the first screening everyone walked out without saying a word to each other or it's director; the great Michael Powell. Very soon critics were attacking it, deeming it pornographic and sick. One even suggested it be flushed into the sewer. Meanwhile, Psycho (which was similar in some ways) was creating lines around the block and garnering acclaim from critics and eventually the academy. It perhaps says a lot about the power of this film that it managed to bring out the worst in those who saw it. But this film was revolutionary because it forced it's audience (what very little there was) to see through the eyes of a killer; not just any killer but one that filmed the expressions of fear on his victims as they die...

The script came from Leo Marks, who interestingly enough worked in the Special Operations Executive (SOE) as head of code development and code security. Well he certainly created a character that's difficult to decode. Mark Lewis (Karl Boehm), our eyes for the film, is a foreign man who works in a film studio crew. To look at him you wouldn't think for a second that he's murderously insane. He's handsome, clean-cut, quiet and gentlemanlike. But his beautiful, clear blue eyes hide madness and perversion, as in his spare time he kills woman with his camera. Well, a metal spike attached to the tripod of his camera. Having filmed them as they die, he rewatches it, almost as if this is some way of coming to terms with his actions and compulsions. Perhaps he is telling himself that this is all just some dream, or only a movie. Through his camera and his screen he is detaching himself from his acts. Do we watch horror films to remove ourselves from the impulses that lie within our subconscious? Is this safe? Mark Lewis embodies a certain kind of person; an outcast, alienated from himself and others, who can only really feel through his eyes. He is both fascinating and pathetic. But somehow I feel I can relate to him. I am a movie-lover. I jump at any word to do with the medium, and I love to watch. I am also socially inept and therefore alienated...

The film isn't overly concerned with story. As you may have gathered, it is more of a character study and exploration of voyeurism. Having murdered a woman in his unique style, Mark goes to take pornographic photos of girls for a newsagent to sell to dirty old men. In one hilarious scene, a man comes in and discreetly hints at purchasing this material. He pervertedly scours the images of the girls, before purchasing an entire book of them and making off in a hilariously paranoid manner, eyeing up Mark as he tries to look inconspicuous. If that wasn't enough, a moment later a schoolgirl walks in asking to buy some sweets. When he arrives home, he looks in on the tenants (literally; through the window), and encounters a young redhead in the hall who is celebrating her birthday. He shyly (slyly?) puts off joining them and goes up to his vast flat to watch some of his movies. But later that night the young lady visits him and he shows her his traumatic childhood on film, which his scientist father (played by Powell himself) filmed as an experiment on fear. It shows lizards dropping onto his bed, young Mark (played by Powell's son) staring at a man and a woman kissing, and rather upsettingly; Mark at his Mother's death-bed. Some of this is funny in a sadistic way, but overrall it's sad and disturbing. All his life Mark has lived only through cameras and equipment; he has never experienced real human affection. There is one scene that may help to explain his targetting of women, when a clip on the reel shows a woman trying to take the place of his deceased mother and holding his hand while he stares blankly ahead. Then his father gives him a camera as a present and goes off on his honeymoon, leaving Mark alone in the world with his camera; watching and being watched. But his new ladyfriend (perhaps he sees her as his mother?) almost makes him connect without his equipment. Almost. In one scene they kiss lightly and tenderly, and then Mark grabs his camera and kisses it. It all culminates with Mark's crimes being revealed and his mental breakdown and downfall.

Thematically this film is fascinating; it is full of ideas about the human mind and cinema itself. Can filming someone be murder? As absurd as this is, perhaps there is some truth in it. Some cultures believe that when you take a photo of someone you take a piece of their soul. In one scene Mark is confronted by the blind mother of his girlfriend. Ironically she can see further into his soul than anyone with eyes can, and urges him to get the help he needs.








Powell's direction is simple but brilliant. The film opens with the ghastly murder of a prostitute seen through the lens of the camera (perhaps the opening of Halloween is a nod to this?). Then it cuts away to reveal Mark watching the act on a screen. There is a constant sense of coldness and isolation, as if everyone is trapped in a pair eyes, watching each other constantly. The use of colour and light is simple but bold. Mark's screening room is dark and has a menacing red glow. And there is so often an eerie echo of voices when characters are alone, as if in the void of Mark's soul. Leo Marks' script contributed greatly to Powell's vision. There is a lot of humorous dialogue to lighten the mood, and a lot of dark irony. The performances are comic and at times grotesquely exaggerated, as if belonging to Mark's diseased mind, and Karlheinz Boehm was perfectly cast; his gaze both chilling and sad. Ultimately Mark Lewis is so scared inside he can only relate to those who are frightened to death...he thrives on the fear of others...

Powell's brilliant masterpiece is a warning that constant filming and surveillance could destroy our souls, and also a personal warning to all those who sit in the dark and watch other people live (or die), to take a break from cameras and projectors for a while...shocking, funny and heartwrenching...but of course...it's only a movie...

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

FILM REVIEW - Julien Donkey-Boy...


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Where do I begin? This is a gut-wrenchingly disturbing and shocking film that is also disorientating and emotionally devastating in parts. It is from Harmony Korine, the director who brought us Gummo; one of my favourite films and what I consider to be a startling evocation of a time, a place and a people. I thought that film was very experimental; certainly in terms of narrative and style. I had another thing coming. This film is very different in style but definitely far more experimental. But when does experimentation become distracting?

Julien Donkey-Boy is a portrayal of a young schizophrenic named Julien and his strange and highly dysfunctional family; the abusive father (Werner Herzog; frightening and funny), who likes to drink medicine out of a shoe while wearing a gas-mask, the tender, caring sister (Chloe Sevigny; excellent as usual) who is also pregnant, the younger brother, who is an aspiring wrestler and the only normal one in the family, and the senile dog-loving grandmother. All of these people are portrayed affectionately, as if Korine knew these people in some past life. Unlike Gummo, this film has a somewhat singular storyline with few tangents (under the dogme95 regulations). The behaviour of these people is at times funny, at others frightening. At the beginning of the film, Julien, alone and lost in the woods, encounters a young boy playing with turtles. He behaves ecstatically at this encounter, but as the child's tone changes to one of disdain Julien appears to strike him down and choke him to death. I say "appears" because things are very hard to make out in this film. The shaky-video-style gives it a highly impressionistic feel. But although the imagery may seem vague, it works, and lingers in the mind. The facial expressions of Julien are both frightening and saddening, as he wanders his street in confusion and fear. Ewen Bremner gives a convincing performance. The interaction of this family gives the film a real dramatic edge, and as it moves on, a plot becomes apparent; though never certain. Early on it is hinted that the baby Julien's sister is carrying may be his, and that they may have an incestuous relationship with each other. Interestingly, they have phone conversations with each other in the same house, in which she pretends to be his dead mother calling him from afar. Scenes like this are fascinating and emotive; the way these people communicate with each other in the dysfunctional realm of their senses...
As I've said before, Korine's direction is highly experimental; perhaps self-consciously so. There are scenes filled with odd camera movement that works on a shock-and-confusion level, but is also somewhat distracting; for instance in one scene Herzog is getting a haircut from Sevigny, and the camera darts around his face and all over-the-place as he tells a story. There are many scenes like this, full of sharp and shaky camera movements and jumpcuts, and the grainy-video aesthetic doesn't help. There is one brilliant scene in a church congregation as a priest chants and sings. Julien gazes as if the priest were addressing only him. The camera whizzes around the rest of the congregation as if they were cheering for him somehow. He stands up and claps; deluded. Is this the worldview of a schizophrenic? Is it because the film is told from Julien's eyes? Perhaps. But I think the film also adopts other perspectives; those of the sister and father. It is sometimes hard to believe that the father isn't mentally ill from his behaviour. And his sister, while rational and gentle for the most part, also behaves in strange ways. And there are also of course distorted images of a girl figure-skating that permeate many scenes. And near the climax is a heart-and-gut-wrenching scene in which his sister falls after gleefully skating round a rink. She is rushed to the hospital where the baby is pronounced dead, but Julien escapes with the foetus and takes it home...


This is not an easy film to digest. Unlike Gummo, it is cold and wintry; the cinematography very grey and gritty, and there is a constant sense of isolation. Well however shocking I find it to be, and however distracting, I believe it to probably be the closest cinema has come to capturing the worldview of a schizophrenic. Demented, odd, icy, but also tender, authentic, personal, and highly effective; surefire proof of the creative force that is Harmony Korine...

Friday, 23 January 2009

FILM REVIEW - Rio Bravo...


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Rio Bravo is, in my opinion, the best western ever made, and one of the greatest character studies. What it lacks in force and spectacle it makes up for in an impeccable study of male camaraderie. While The Searchers, another great western, connects the wild, vast, infinite landscape of the west to the wild, obsessive, bitter Ethan Edwards and to a lost age in Western civilization, Rio Bravo restricts it's setting to a small western town and it's cosy yet claustrophobic interiors. The story concerns three men of law (John Wayne, Dean Martin and Walter Brennan) and a young-gun (Ricky Nelson), who find their quiet lives interrupted by the acts of a despicable murderer (Claude Atkins), whose arrest attracts the attention of his brother, a local rancher who plans to use any means neccessary to break his brother free. They must hold them off until the marshall arrives. So the relationships of the men are put to the test, not just by criminals, but by weaknesses (age, alcoholism, naivety) and of course women...

The performances are impeccable; Hawks, always great with actors, made John Wayne appear weak but very human and tender as few directors could, and Walter Brennan gives a strong and comic performance as the ageing, insecure but feisty Stumpy. Dean Martin is pitiful but funny and strong as the pathetic, broken-hearted alcoholic. Ricky Nelson is Ricky Nelson, but he fits in perfectly as a young gunslinger, and Hawks couldn't resist giving us a musical number. There is something profound in the way these men interact, in the way tensions increase inside and outside. Hawks filmed them with a restrained, strolling, casual camera, capturing the inner-feelings of these men in a simple and natural manner. The more one watches it though, the more an expressive directorial power is evident. There are very few close-ups in the film, but they're used to express the simplest yet most quietly profound things; a man-rolling a cigarette, a man whose shakes are cured. It's certainly not all about men though. When John T. Chance ventures away from the cosy and gruff male surroundings of the jail he is confronted with many threats; bandits, murderers, and women. Angie Dickinson plays "Feathers," an entertainer at the local bar who takes a liking to him as he keeps an eye on the gambling. They have wonderful chemistry together, particularly in a scene in which Dickinson is getting dressed (erotica anyone?) and the two casually discuss their lives, trying to keep hidden the forces of attraction at work. So each character has a weakness, women, girls, alcohol, and age, trying to hold on to their dignity and honour even if it means risking their lives. Bravery is another theme the film explores, each character has to overcome their flaws and prove themselves; Brennan shows that despite his age he can still put up a fight, Martin cures his alcoholism, Wayne finds love, and Nelson learns a thing or two.

Hawks, not usually discussed when it comes to "technique" was undoubtedly a masterful visual storyteller. The entire opening of the film is dialogue free; only gestures and expressions are filmed. In a bar a dirty, torn-up Martin wanders a bar looking for some way of buying beer. Eventually a man (the murderer) tosses a coin into a spittoon. As Martin crouches to retrieve it the spittoon is kicked away and there is revealed Wayne, towering over him, a look of pity, disgust and sadness on his face. This scene alone is evidence of the seldom admitted or realised expressive mastery of Hawks' direction. But Hawks (in some ways humble, not in others), successfully keeps any "direction" invisible to the casual viewer, and so we are totally enveloped in the story. His style is quiet, subdued, lethargic, but observant and quite deliberate. The film ends on a note of acceptance and contentment, as each character, having proven themselves, go on with their lives...a great film about life, love, and masculinity...as David Thomson said; a man is more expressive rolling a cigarette than saving the world...