February 15th: The Missing Link

 

49. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Michael Hoffman, 1999)

I’m currently undertaking a Shakespeare course that attempts to introduce the theory and criticism of 8 of the man’s main plays, hence there’ll be a few Shakespeare reviews over the next few months. I’ll use these reviews as a primer for my later essay work on the course. 

This particular adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is populated by A-list Hollywood stars throughout the cast; evidently eager to flex their acting muscles in a part with a bit more respect attached to it. Christian Bale, Dominic West, Michelle Pfieffer, Rupert Everett, Kevin Kline all take parts in a story that really doesn’t have a central lead as such. What’s more interesting is Michael Hoffman’s direction, he has decided that his interpretation of the story is quite softly erotic and sensuous. Athens and its surrounding forest is a lush and luxurious place. There is a richness of colour and softness of tone that is mirrored in the performances – especially Rupert Everett as Faerie King Oberon. I had read Oberon as a commanding, magisterial role, instead I found this interpretation to be a playful, lounging presence. He seems to recline into every position with an air of decadence and lazy sexuality, his whispered lines controlling events in the forest.

I found the interpretation of the staged play by the ‘rude mechanicals’ much more entertaining than I when I read the play. As the plot has effectively wrapped itself up the story seems to concern itself overtly with the action of actually staging and watching a performance. Sam Rockwell, in particular, shines at this stage – making the scene his own with a difficult transition from laughably inept to a serious and heartfelt performance.

February 21st: Picture Perfect

53. Flags of Our Fathers (Clint Eastwood, 2006)

I decided that I’d had quite enough horror for the time being so a switch was necessary. Clint Eastwood prepared a sort of double bill between this and Letters From Iwo Jima and I’ll be reviewing that film shortly. Flags of Our Fathers tells the story of the most infamous war photo from World War 2, the six American soldiers raising their national flag atop the sulphurous Mount Suribachi. As you’d expect it is a melancholy story, the three men from the picture who survived Iwo Jima were brought back to America to help drive on the bond effort as the US was running out of money. They find their celebrity very difficult to deal with, repeatedly stating that the men who didn’t make it back were the real heroes. The film flits back and forth from the island back to the publicity tour all framed by the story of the one son who decided to piece together the history of his fathers involvement in the picture. The story is treated with a sober hand by Eastwood, there’s no room for sentimentality in his portrayal of real human lives. It’s interesting to note that the media manipulation that took place in this story foreshadows the current media battle that currently rages over every story that emerges from the warzones of Iraq and Afghanistan. Because of this Flags of Our Fathers is a more intelligent and challenging war film than many others even if the action lacks a little of the bombast.

February 21st: Shoddy workmanship

***Important note***

Vetting movies before they get shown at my horror nights is pretty important given the horrific disaster when I didn’t check the wobbling shower of turds that is SARS WARS: Bangkok Zombie Crisis (2004, Taweewat Wantha) and inflicted it on my poor, poor friends. Hence this film is one of the films that will undergo the vetting process and will get a pass/fail at the end of the review.

***Important note***

52. The Amityville Horror (Andrew Douglas, 2005)

Platinum Dunes continue their run of horror remakes with this adaptation of the possibly true/probably bollocks story of George and Kathy Lutz and their spooky Dutch colonial house. Unfortunately the film is indicative of a recent lack of creativity in American horror. It’s become evident over recent years that European and World Cinema has taken a bit of a lead in inventive horror cinema specifically. Whilst the US revels in remaking classics from the 70s and 80s the French cinema in particular is racing ahead – producing great original horror. The Amityville Horror doesn’t really do anything special, the story is essentially the same as the original film with a few plot variations. Ryan Reynolds resembles a male model rather than a tradesman and Home & Away alumni Melissa George is perhaps a touch to young to play a mother of three. The scares are a little too frequent and certainly lack subtlety. FAIL

February 18th: Isn’t Leslie a girls name?

***Important note***

Vetting movies before they get shown at my horror nights is pretty important given the horrific disaster when I didn’t check the wobbling shower of turds that is SARS WARS: Bangkok Zombie Crisis (2004, Taweewat Wantha) and inflicted it on my poor, poor friends. Hence this film is one of the films that will undergo the vetting process and will get a pass/fail at the end of the review.

***Important note***

51. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (Scott Glosserman, 2006)

More horror to make up for the Automaton Transfusion debacle of the previous night, and with some success. Behind the Mask is a horror deconstruction film where a wannabe psycho-slasher modeling himself on Freddie Krueger, Michael Myers and Jason Vorhees invites a documentary film crew along to document him preparing for his killing spree. Reveling in the clichés of horror, Behind the Mask gently and affectionately mocks conventions with wit and verve. The documentary crew are inevitably made increasingly complicit until the point where the killing spree begins and Leslie Vernon’s plans begin to crystalise. It’s not a perfect deconstruction of horror but the obvious reverence for the stalk-slash genre is heartening and enjoyable especially when Leslie Vernon himself is such a likeable chap. PASS

February 17th: Milestone Millstone

Skipping from 48 to 50? Well I wrote a review for the 49th film but left it on another computer. It’ll be on next week – honest.

***Important note***

Vetting movies before they get shown at my horror nights is pretty important given the horrific disaster when I didn’t check the wobbling shower of turds that is SARS WARS: Bangkok Zombie Crisis (2004, Taweewat Wantha) and inflicted it on my poor, poor friends. Hence this film is one of the films that will undergo the vetting process and will get a pass/fail at the end of the review.

***Important note***

50. Automaton Transfusion (Steven C. Miller, 2006)

50 films in and I come to a movie that I had requested for Christmas. What a terrible mistake that was. Avoid Automaton Transfusion, it’s not a fault of the $30,000 budget. The film just fails to avoid the pitfalls of having that small budget. It doesn’t manage to avoid cliché – it just careers from one poorly thought out and average set piece to another. The acting is negligible and the editing is basic. It doesn’t even have the decency to actually come to a resolution – it ends on a ‘to be continued’ cliffhanger. As an additional warning, beware the reviews from bloody-disgusting.com because this film isn’t subversive or intelligent it’s just a bit shit. FAIL

February 15th: Split Decisions

 

48. Cloverfield (Matt Reeves, 2008)

Not many films in recent memory have polarised opinion in the same way that Cloverfield has. Whilst some proclaimed it to be a new form of cinema, a new and modern way of seeing and experiencing a narrative – others seemed to think that it betrayed its central premise and offered only a Blair Witch Project perspective on the Godzilla story. So I definitely approached this film with a series of preconceptions.

I personally enjoyed Cloverfield as an experience as a group of young New York socialites live through an assault on the city from a pleasingly Lovecraftian behemoth. Where I think the film was successful was in its representation of panic and confusion in a large scale disaster. It maintains a pacy and visceral feel with some judicious editing, which is the key aspect for most criticism as the editing is paced in a very story driven way – not as if it were filmed continuously by one man in the middle of a crisis.  

There’s an obvious inspiration for a large scale disaster in New York City and Cloverfield is very much a post 9/11 film. It resonates with images of partially destroyed buildings and dust clouds. The film being told in hand-held camera shots also keys back into this modern disaster. This all makes Cloverfield representative to a greater or lesser extent of our image consumption. Digital recording devices are obscenely widely available and this, in turn with the way that modern media services such as 24 hour news repeatedly push low quality images has made some subtle changes in the ways that we are prepared to receive a story. I don’t think Cloverfield is revolutionary in this respect (see [.REC] for a similar representation on a smaller scale) instead it is one of the more complete and comprehensive realisations of this phenomena.

Where Cloverfield stumbles is in its showing and telling. You are told everything you need to know to enjoy the film and you see precious little for a large portion of the narrative but there is a final and completely unnecessary reveal, a face-to-face of sorts, that breaks the veneer of distance between the major event and our relatively minor characters. This does threaten to undercut the central conceit of the film as does the hinted at denouement for the big Cthulu chap. But thankfully the preceeding hour is enough to forgive these flaws. The internet would have me believe that at least one of these things is down to suggestions from Steven Spielberg. Who proved, to me at least, how woefully out of touch he is with modern audiences when he presented that awful Crystal Skull episode last year.

February 14th: Kids Stuff

 

47. Howl’s Moving Castle (Hayao Miyazaki, 2004)

 

The third of the big Miyazaki trilogy, Howl’s Moving Castle is the latest in a string of international successes for Studio Ghibli. It encompasses the same themes, again we have a ‘lost girl’ in Sophie the girl cursed to be an old woman, there is a green message which in this case is tied up with an ongoing war and there is a prince figure who comes to the aid of the lost girl. I didn’t enjoy this film quite as much as the brilliant Spirited Away because the story seemed a lot more confused and is eventually just abandoned. Where the other films maintained a form narrative climax Howl’s just dissipates toward the end when character motivations are just left in the air. Despite this the film retains the same sense of gentle enchantment and forthright honesty that characterises Miyazaki’s work.

February 13th: Is the red light on?

***Important note***

Vetting movies before they get shown at my horror nights is pretty important given the horrific disaster when I didn’t check the wobbling shower of turds that is SARS WARS: Bangkok Zombie Crisis (2004, Taweewat Wantha) and inflicted it on my poor, poor friends. Hence this film is one of the films that will undergo the vetting process and will get a pass/fail at the end of the review.

***Important note***

46. [.REC] (Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza, 2007)

 

[.REC] is one of a double bill of ‘shakeycam’ films that I watched over the weekend, this is the small scope film the other one has a more grand vision. Inspired in all probability by two things, the success of The Blair Witch Project all that way back in 1999 and the proliferation of terrible local interest television. The film follows local TV presenter Ángela Vidal as she accompanies the district Fire Dept on a call that spirals from confusion to abject terror. It’s a compact and taut thriller, the tension continues to ratchet up leading to the excellently played final scenes. It’s a definite ‘PASS’ for any horror night, clocking in at an excellent 74 minutes in length.

February 11th: Buts and maybes

 

45. If… (Lindsay Anderson, 1968)

 

Malcolm McDowell is Mick, the angry young chap in this bizarre socialist rebellion fantasy set in that most austere of locations – the boys private boarding school (with an attached military academy no less). The film slips between the mundane reality of the class-system representation of daily life in the school and the fantastic and occasionally violent imagined events of angry Mick. By modern standards If… isn’t particularly shocking or rebellious, in the wake of the Columbine tragedy it might actually seem eerily prophetic, and modern audiences might struggle to see representations of class with the same familiarity as the late 60s audience. This dampened effect aside, If… is a window on a time when class lines in Britain were far clearer and political allegiance actually meant something. It’s an illumination of attitudes especially given as the relatively tame sex scene was viewed as quite racy. At least now I know why my father went to see it.

 

If… is listed in the Neon book 1000 Essential Movies on Video under ‘School Movies’.

February 9th: Like JFK without the big Costner speech.

44. Bobby (Emilio Estevez, 2006)

 Woah, that is one hell of a big cast – Emilio Estevez gathers the great and the good from across the acting spectrum from Anthony Hopkins to Lindsay Lohan for this story about the events of June 4th/5th in The Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles leading up to the assassination of US Senator Robert Kennedy. Estevez hasn’t concentrated on Kennedy himself, who is only shown through actual footage of his time leading up to the event, instead he concentrates on the myriad of characters who happen to be at the party thrown in Kennedy’s honour at the hotel. The film unfortunately suffers from the ‘repeated epiphany’ syndrome. Each set of characters manages to have a major life changing realization in this 24 hour period, all framed by the impending arrival of the Senator. Whilst it is a little aimless and sentimental Bobby is ultimately quite enjoyable as a glimpse at a time where people were very hopeful about a politician who promised to end a fairly hopeless looking war. Hmmmm, wait a minute…

Oh, one other thing – Laurence Fishburne’s ‘Morpheus’ schtick is getting quite old. In fact I was glad when he fucked off halfway through the film because his tiresome cod-philosophy was getting right on my tits.