March 30th: A company of wolves…

81. In the Company of Men (Neil LaBute, 1997)

I remember pretty clearly when this film was released. I had started devouring movie magazines at a rate of knots so I knew all about Neil LaBute facing repeated accusations that he was a misogynist and that he had a serious problem with women. It formed part of the booming 90s American independent cinema movement and for that alone I should have probably seen it when it was released. Those days stretched from Reservoir Dogs through Clerks and ending, as I knew them anyway, when the independents were completely subsumed by the majors.

Anyway, enough reminiscing, this isn’t a film nostalgia site. Chad and Howard are dispatched to a new office being set up by their company for six weeks to manage the transition. On the way the pair divulge stories of their recent heartbreak and Chad plans revenge, not on their recent partners, but on someone new, someone who would serve as a cipher for all women. They’ll pick someone who isn’t noticeable, a wallflower, someone they can easily get the attention of. Then separately they’ll date her for the six weeks, give her confidence and affection before pulling the rug at the end of it all. Howard reluctantly agrees and they find their target soon after they arrive. Christine is a temping typist and, even better for Chad, she’s deaf. She’s the perfect ‘damaged goods’ for his cruel game.

It’s easy to see why LaBute was accused of misogyny. The premise of the film is so superficially callous and Chad, played with evident glee by Aaron Eckhart, is a facsimile of Patrick Bateman – a sociopath rewarded by the business world. In fact you might hate Chad, I certainly did. He’s an absolutely despicable character, undoubtedly charismatic but lacking in any redeeming humane features whatsoever. Howard on the other hand is a complete sop, he goes along with Chad’s awful plan and eventually begins to unravel under the stress of it. This all takes place in a strange twilight business world. All the action occurs between the meetings and conference calls in shadowy halls and offices. The sharp vindictive dialogue is spat out with real vigour by Eckhart as he chews the scenery. But this would mean nothing without a heart for the story and the heart of the film is Christine, played with touching understatement by Stacy Edwards. It’s impossible not to sympathise with her from the moment she is on screen being circled by Chad.

I can’t see the film as misogynistic, I think it’s much smarter than that. Yes, Chad is a misogynist, in fact by the end of the film you’ll believe him capable of anything. He is a complete sociopath, devoid of any conscience at all. This film is an indictment of the patriarchal business world, it has to be. A world that rewards Chad and degrades Christine isn’t anything to aspire to, it’s a mess. A mess we are curiously well aware of at the moment. LaBute doesn’t offer any easy answers either, because there aren’t any to give, he’s holding a mirror up to something that is truly ugly.

March 28th: She won an Oscar for that?

80. My Cousin Vinny (Jonathan Lynne, 1992)

It seems that almost everyone else has seen this and I’ve somehow managed to avoid it for a very long time. I decided something a bit light-hearted was in order after Grave of the Fireflies so I opted for this gentle comedy. The Karate Kid and his whiny friend are arrested in a backwater Alabama town whilst on their way to college, they are accused of a murder that they didn’t commit and in desperate need of a good attourney to get them off the charges. Cue Joe Pesci’s Vinny Gambino turning up to help his cousin, Daniel-san, argue with the trial judge, Herman Munster, and wonder how he managed to get engaged to the gorgeous Marisa Tomei. Enjoyably light fluff with some nice comic touches and decent performances from the leads, it doesn’t outstay its welcome and offers decent non-mafia roles to the Italian-American actors.

Guns, Hot Chicks, Car Chases, Whiskey…

Hello there!

I’ve decided that I quite fancy sharing some of the really cool stuff to do with films that occasionally pops up and piques my interest. This is the first of these posts and you can use the comments to tell me whether or not you’re interested in any of the things I put up.  Most of the news/trailers and other bits that I find comes via the excellent film website, which I can heartily recommend.

Anyways – first little piece of goodness is the excellent looking trailer for the soon to arrive Give ’em Hell, Malone (Russell Mulcahy, 2009). From this trailer I’m really looking forward to the film and I’m sure some of you will too.

March 28th: The saddest eulogy

79. Grave of the Fireflies (Isao Takahata, 1988) #195 in IMDB top 250

I’ve been remiss in not watching this, especially as I once wrote an essay on Japanese films about the war. Grave of the Fireflies is one of the saddest films I’ve ever seen, it near enough moved me to tears. During the latter stages of World War 2, Seita and his younger sister Setsuko are living through the blitz of Kobe when their mother dies and they are forced live with a harsh aunt. They move out soon after and try to survive on their own in an abandoned bomb shelter. It is ostensibly an anti-war film but concentrates on the human effects that war has on society, specifically the young and nominally innocent members. It is a profound message delivered in an incredibly simple manner. The film opens with the line “September 21, 1945… that was the night I died.” And subsequently shows Seita’s death. The sadness of the film is enhanced by the direct and honest way it depicts the mundane nature of the children’s lives, the simple joy as they play by beach and the concentration on their food. These events, simple though they are, realise the characters in a way that is rarely achieved in live action cinema. Reading up on the film it appears that it was based on an autobiographical volume, this may go some length to explaining the tremendous emotional effect of the narrative.

The overall effect of the film reminded me of Roberto Rossellini’s Germany Year Zero (1948) and in the extras for the film Roger Ebert suggests that were Grave of the Fireflies to be made as a live action film then it would be like an Italian Neo-Realist film (a live action version has been made but the perspective altered significantly). This is high praise indeed for an animated film, so much is the natural prejudice to think that they can’t hope to be as emotionally effective as traditional films. I think that this film belongs to a fine tradition of Japanese war cinema, a thoughtful and intelligent genre but not necessarily one to cheer the heart.

March 26th: Para-psychology bollocks.

78. The Entity (Sidney J. Furie, 1981)

Barbara Hershey was gorgeous, lovely, beautiful and then some. She was also a talented actress – as evidenced in this film. I’m talking about her in the past tense because she has reached the unfortunate age where female actors suddenly disappear from view. I’ll not go on about that but if you do want to know some more then you could do worse than to seek out Rosanna Arquette’s documentary Searching for Debra Winger (2002). And then send it to me because I’d quite like to watch it.

The Entity is a fairly silly film. Hershey is Carla Moran, a woman who is repeatedly sexually assaulted and raped by something invisible. The film is punctuated by about 4 or 5 of these assaults and each one is quite uncomfortable to watch. Unfortunately any tension the film builds is undone by the jarring soundtrack. Crunching industrial guitar riffs accompany the arrival of the rapist ghost making the scenes in question take on an air of some kind of dingy S&M pornography. It’s a shame because Barbara Hershey has acted her socks off throughout the film and it unravels her performance a little. I was pretty upset at the treatment of Ron Silver’s doctor character too, his attempts to rationalise Carla’s problems fall by the wayside of the supernatural storyline. I try not to get too hung up on this because the same accusation can be leveled at one of my favourite films – Ghostbusters. The Entity spirals further into silliness by the conclusion as some dodgy effects contribute to the bizarre attempt to ‘catch’ the ghost. Overall it’s a pretty poor film with some upsetting scenes of sexual abuse.

The Entity  is listed in the Neon book 1000 Essential Movies on Video under ‘Ghost Stories’.

March 25th: Black gold blues

77. The Kingdom (Peter Berg, 2007) 

Expectations were low for this, I needed something action oriented to see me through a late night. I got what I wanted, frenetic panicky action with great spatial awareness, but I got a lot more too. I really enjoyed Peter Berg’s Friday Night Lights, it had a style and outlook that I really admired and something that is rarely seen in a sports film. There is a definite continuation of this style in The Kingdom but we have a much different story. The film starts with a startling and brilliant sequence which explains the history of Saudi Arabia (The Kingdom of the title), as far as condensed history lessons go, this is superb. It traces from the formation of the state early last century through to the modern day and the crucial relationship with the United States in a story drenched in thick black oil. And it manages it in less than two minutes. After I finished the film I watched this again – a higher recommendation I cannot give. The story then takes off, an American oil company housing estate in Saudi Arabia is attacked and American citizens die. The FBI are immediately on hand suggesting that they ‘put US boots on Saudi soil’ to find the killers. They are rebuked by every other arm of government, but they eventually find a way in. They have 5 days to find the killers with the help, or hinderance, of the Saudi security forces.

The Kingdom is slick intelligent film-making from the hands of a very talented writer and director. I’ve mentioned the quality of the action and the way Peter Berg manipulates space to create tension – the climactic scenes convey genuine panic and exhilaration successfully. Part of this is also down to the characters who aren’t spectacular but are sympathetic and human enough to engender reasonable sympathy. There is one stand out though, Ashraf Barhom as Colonel Faris Al Ghazi. Here lies the true heart of the film. His performance as the man trapped between two divergent worlds is superb as he balances his patriotism with his desire for justice. The political aspect of the film is finely balanced too, there aren’t any easy answers on display. Whilst it doesn’t approximate the complexity of the true situation it doesn’t condescend either. An unusually intelligent action film for the post 9/11 audience.

March 24th: Is this a DVD I see before me?

76. Macbeth (Roman Polanski, 1971)

Pile on the gore! Shakespeare can be a bloody nightmarish thing and Roman Polanski wants you to know it. The brisk tragedy is given the full miserablist treatment with an added dash of madness. From the opening appearance of the witches through to the brutal execution of our tragic hero this is a breathlessly brutal adaptation with buckets of crimson lavished over the spectacle. Filmed against the stunning landscapes of Northumberland and Snowdonia (not filmed in Scotland though!) the cinematography is luscious in its bleak forbidding tones. Howling winds and tumultuous rains pound over the whole affair. The whole thing is evocative of an extremely highbrow Hammer production. The crushing unstoppable nature of the tragedy is brought to an excellent halt in the final siege where Macbeth, reveling in the knowledge (or under the delusion) that he cannot be killed by that ‘born of woman’, is like a medieval Terminator. He wades into the advancing forces, clattering men left and right and shouting them down until he is inevitably felled by his nemesis. A cracking adaptation, thoroughly enjoyable in its own right.

Blog News

The old theme had to be ditched, it was halting me getting any stats about the blog – which is annoying. I’ll be sticking with this theme for a week or so to make sure everything is fine, then I’ll set about finding one that looks nice and that doesn’t screw with my stats. As it is I’ve had no idea how many people were actually visiting this place.

More reviews very soon. Promise.

March 22nd: And her.

75. Hitman (Xavier Gens, 2008)

I really enjoy computer games. Love ’em to bits (or bytes) I do. I do not have the same reaction when confronted with a film adaptation of a computer game. With trepidation I slipped in the Hitman disc. I’ve actually played a couple of the games and enjoyed them, as exercises in planning and, literally, executing a strategy they don’t have much in the way of a rival. The cold clean nature of the game and the main character is ideal for a game about killing, because that’s what it is. It’s a refined virtual killing engine, and a very good one. The over-arching plot of the games is reproduced here in the film; Agent 47 (Timothy Olyphant) is a bald, genetically engineered, assassin with a barcode on the back of his head. He works for the shadowy ‘organisation’ who give him assassination targets. When one appears to go a bit tits-up the organisation turn on 47 and he has to kill his way to the truth, so far so cliché. Along the way he picks up the pleasingly proportioned tart-with-a-heart Nika (Olga Kurylenko) who engenders a little bit of human emotion in the cold hearted killer. It’s all very flashy, an explosion or fight is never far away but the whole thing gets quite confusing in the middle – to the point where I got a bit confused. I’m not usually easily confused but there was a pretty big chunk where I was a bit clueless as to who was working for who and why. Needless to say the bad people were swiftly dispatched so it didn’t matter too much. The whole thing is pretty empty and soulless a bit like Agent 47 himself and unfortunately for the film-makers a little too close in spirit to the game.

March 20: Mum says I’m…

74. Special (Hal Haberman & Jeremy Passmore, 2006)

Rarely do I sit down to watch a film knowing nothing about it but this was one such case. And what a pleasant event it turned out to be. Michael Rapaport is Les Franken, a lonely parking attendant who reads comics and still harbours childhood dreams of being able to fly just like a superhero. He signs up for a medical trial of a new drug, ‘Special’. The drug is designed to eradicate your self-doubt, to give you more confidence. Les responds to the drug with a bit more vigour than expected, he believes he has the superpowers he always wanted and he quits his job in order to help the citizenry. This brings him to the attention of the owners of the drug company, hoping for a corporate buy-out the last thing they want to see is a fellow wearing a silvery-white leather suit rugby tackling innocent people whilst sporting their company logo. I was reminded of Half Nelson in the way that Special was filmed, languid and gentle. It cements Les’ loneliness, his distance from other human contact when the world he lives in doesn’t react to his behaviour – he’s invisible. He’s exhorted to repeat that he is special by his employer, whilst expected to behave normally in a life that is anything but special. Michael Rapaport is astounding in this film, his big sad features convey his child-like excitement at his supposed powers and his subsequent confusion and fear when the world doesn’t react how he expects. It isn’t often that I’ve cared quite as much about a character. His interaction with a shop assistant Maggie, played by Alexandra Holden, who he saved from an armed robbery is a beautiful and touching piece of acting but also a clever juxtaposition. Maggie has a problem (no spoilers – promise) which is caused, in a simplification, by her self-doubt. The scene plays out beautifully as two awkward, and apparently, lonely people connect and find some form of unspoken common ground. Special is indeed that.