09 January 2008

Unfinished Business, Part II

Onwards we go, with another bunch of films. On the whole, these are better than the ones reviewed in Part I, although some duffers may have slipped through that are just as bad or even worse. (My division of these reviews into Parts I, II, etc., is essentially pragmatic; i.e., so that I don't have to face such a dauntingly huge list of films to be reviewed.)

Confetti (Debbie Isitt, 2006)
British comedy mockumentary about three couples competing to win a glossy-magazine-sponsored 'Most Original Wedding of the Year' competition. Given the wealth of British comedy acting talent involved, it's probably not as funny (or as dark) as it should have been, but it's reasonably watchable stuff.

Failure to Launch (Tom Dey, 2006)
Predictable rom-com about which I now recall very little.

Flightplan (Robert Schwentke, 2005)
Moderately engaging psychological thriller that probably would have sucked balls without someone like Jodie Foster putting in a committed performance (although her presence, and the endless running around, does make it feel a bit like a remake of Panic Room on a plane).

Good Night, and Good Luck (George Clooney, 2005)
Stylish, interesting, and enlightenting portrayal of the efforts of CBS broadcaster
Edward R Murrow and his team to criticise and undermine McCarthy and McCarthyism in the 1950s.

The Hills Have Eyes (Wes Craven, 1977)
Mediocre. I was expecting something substantially more brutal and harrowing from a film released just three years after The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but I was disappointed. Then again, I should have known that Wes Craven cannot deliver genuine horror; only a mild form of cheese-laden suspense.

Hollywoodland (Allen Coulter, 2006)
Private dick drama centering around the mysterious death (officially a suicide) of
George Reeves, the actor who first played Superman on TV in the 1950s. It hasn't exactly stuck in my mind, which is never a good sign, but from what I can remember, Adrien Brody puts in a good performance as the detective hired by Reeves's mother to investigate his death.

Hot Fuzz (Edgar Wright, 2007)
As a fan of Spaced and Shaun of the Dead, I had high expectations for this film. But whereas those two earlier works appealed to me through their non-mainstream references to comics, sci-fi, console games, recreational drug use, horror films, and the like, Hot Fuzz adopts a much more populist genre - the cop/buddy/action film - as its inspiration. Not being a particularly big fan of this genre, the references left me feeling distinctly cold and disconnected. The Wicker-Man-esque storyline was pitifully weak, and it all dragged on way too long.

Huo Yuan Jia (aka Fearless) (Ronny Yu, 2006)
I guess Jet Li's getting a bit old now, so it's increasingly necessary to CGI /
undercrank / severely cut the action to keep it fast. It works OK, but is nothing spectacular.

The Ice Harvest (Harold Ramis, 2005)
Yet another twisty noirish crime caper. This one comes across like a blatant (but failed) attempt to replicate the style of the Coen brothers. The pairing of Billy Bob Thornton and John Cusack also makes it feels like Ramis is trying to recreate the dynamic they brought to
Pushing Tin. In summary: derivative.

Ils (aka Them) (David Moreau & Xavier Palud, 2006)
A French horror film which is allegedly, but from what I can gather probably not, based on actual events. It starts promisingly enough, but turns out to be not much more than an extended footchase sequence. And because of the misleading way in which the story is presented, one can't help but feel mildly Shyamalanned.*

[*Shyamalan (verb): to intentionally misdirect an audience from the truth about what's happening in a film by using sounds, images, sequences of events (etc.) that are in fact inconsistent with that truth. Hence: (i) Mild Shyamalanning: a type of Shyamalanning used to add mystery and drama that would otherwise be absent; (ii) Strong Shyamalanning: an extreme form of Shyamalanning designed to conceal the final twist upon which the effectiveness of one's entire film rests.]

Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door (Gregory Wilson, 2007)
Adaptation of a
book based on the torture and murder of Sylvia Likens in 1960s Indiana. Considered as a true story, it's undoubtedly a shocking and disturbing case, but this attempt to transform it into a horror film somehow lessens the impact. I'm only speculating here, but it's almost as if the film-makers couldn't help but hold themselves back, not wishing to revel in the nasty details out of respect for the real-life tragedy. If that's the case, then it's questionable whether they should have made a horror film at all. Horror films are an intentionally over-the-top form of entertainment, the point of which is precisely to revel in (and, more often than not, have fun with) nasty details. If a film-maker finds it inappropriate to treat a particular subject-matter in this way, then they should really be doing something different (making a serious documentary, for example). Then again, maybe I'm completely misreading the whole thing. It could merely be a bad attempt to make an all-out horror flick.

Jeepers Creepers (Victor Salva, 2001)
Silly monster-based horror film which starts promisingly but offers nothing original.

Kakushi Ken Oni No Tsume (aka The Hidden Blade) (Yōji Yamada, 2004)
Period melodrama focusing on the life of a low-ranking samurai and his immediate family in the mid-nineteenth century. Thematically, it's very similar to Yamada's
Tasogare Seibei (aka The Twilight Samurai), but is unfortunately nowhere near as well-executed or as interesting. The most enjoyable and historically illuminating scenes are those in which the local samurai clan grudgingly undertake lessons in new-fangled Western military techniques, such as marching in formation, sprinting (samurai were not accustomed to running in the Western style) and operating a cannon. Other than that, the film is overly sentimental, and too long by half.

The Matador (Richard Shepard, 2005)
Yet another film I can't remember much about. I suppose I should have grouped these into a short list of their own. As with Syriana, reviewed in Part I, I was hoping that a browse through the synopses on IMDb would resuscitate some dormant memories and enable me to rattle off a few quick comments. But no. Therefore: Verdict: Forgettable.

Memoirs of a Geisha (Rob Marshall, 2005)
Oh Christ, here's another one that's faded almost entirely from my memory. Apologies, then, for all of these non-reviews. (My current backlog contains some films that I watched as long ago as the summer of 2006, so I'm bound to draw some blanks). All I remember in this case is: it was extremely sappy, and annoyed me with its obvious self-conscious striving to appear 'epic'.

Mibu Gishi Den (aka When the Last Sword is Drawn) (Yojiro Takita, 2003)
Another samurai period drama. Similar to Kakushi Ken Oni No Tsume (aka The Hidden Blade), insofar as it's historically interesting, contains solidly written characters / relationships, and is by no means unwatchable, but suffers from being overly long and melodramatic.

My Super Ex-Girlfriend (Ivan Reitman, 2006)
Surprisingly funny and, for my money, certainly preferable to most of the 'serious' superhero films that have dribbled out of Hollywood's arse in recent years.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (Gore Verbinski, 2006)
Big budget blockbuster nonsense made palatable only by Depp's somewhat enjoyable buffoonery.

Proof (John Madden, 2005)
Maths-based mystery drama which succeeds in telling an interesting tale, but isn't half as clever as its own lofty atmosphere tends to suggest.

Scary Movie 4 (David Zucker, 2006)
These films are hardly the pinnacle of cinematic genius, but as a fan of horror films I quite enjoy the spoofs. Let's just call it a guilty pleasure and move quickly on ...

Sennen Joyū (aka Millenium Actress) (Satoshi Kon, 2001)
A reasonably creative and enjoyable anime adventure. But it's far too gentle and slushy for my liking. Nowhere near as dark, challenging, and absorbing as Kon's Mōsō Dairinin (aka Paranoia Agent).

16 Blocks (Richard Donner, 2006)
If you can allow the extreme silliness of it all to wash over you, then there's a fair amount of mindless entertainment to be derived here.

Starter for 10 (Tom Vaughan, 2006)
Tame and predictable 1980s-set British comedy which purports to be about a team of students preparing to compete in
University Challenge, but loses its focus by deviating into too many unimaginative side-plots.

Storm Warning (Jamie Blanks, 2007)
Another variation on the ever-popular Stranded in the Wilderness with Psychopaths theme (for more on which, see
this review). The main problem with this particular contribution to the genre is the amount of time that elapses before the outbreak of any substantial violence. The characters and dialogue are much too weak to sustain such a lengthy delay. What should, according to the grammar of the genre, have been a period of gradually building tension is actually a period of gradually declining credibility and interest. To be fair, once the shit hits the fan, there's some enthusiastically executed and thoroughly enjoyable splatter. But it's just slightly too little, slightly too late.

Unknown (Simon Brand, 2006)
Another variation on the recently popular Waking Up Imprisoned With No Idea How Or Why theme (for more on which, see
this review). The premise of the story is fairly clever (a group of trapped characters realise that they must belong to rival hostile groups, but can't remember who belongs to which), but it suffers from the obvious defect of being ludicrously implausible (and too damned twisty for its own good). The script is also weak and unrealistic, which does no favours for the cast (featuring the always-charismatic Joey Pants) who struggle to sustain the dialogue-heavy scenes. Recommendable only if you're gagging to see yet another twist film.

Walk the Line (James Mangold, 2005)
Biopic about Johnny Cash, the main strength of which is the quality of the vocal performances put in by Phoenix and Witherspoon, who do an outstanding job of sounding like Cash and his wife, June Carter. I didn't have much prior knowledge about the pair's lives, so the film worked for me as a source of information (although I'm aware that it's been criticised for inaccuracies - see
here, for example). It doesn't chart the whole of Cash's life, so the ending is a bit jarring if, like me, you were assuming you'd be given the entire story (not an unreasonable assumption, given that Cash died two years before the film's release).

The Warriors (Walter Hill, 1979)
No doubt the street gangs depicted in this film would have seemed a lot less camp and cheesy in 1979, but despite looking like a Village People fan-convention gone badly wrong, it's still quite an enjoyable ride, with a simple yet effective premise.

You, Me and Dupree (Anthony & Joe Russo, 2006)
Poor.*

[*I was considering writing a much shorter review ("No."), but in the end I opted for a slightly more explanatory choice of word.]

04 January 2008

Unfinished Business, Part I

I'm running about 120 films behind schedule, so it's time to get back on track. I'll start in this post, with the worst of the bunch.

Big Nothing (Jean-Baptiste Andrea, 2006)
Uninspired crime caper in which the talents of Simon Pegg and David Schwimmer resoundlingly fail to shine forth.

Casino Royale (Martin Cambell, 2006)
Dreary mess of a film in which the makers of Bond desperately attempt (a) to keep pace with the two more recently successful J.B.s (Jack Bauer and Jason Bourne); and (b) to cash in on the recent boom in the popularity of
Texas Hold 'Em, which results in a massively inaccurate representation of the game itself, along with lashings of ridiculous "let's-talk-explicitly-about-what's-happening-so-that-the-audience-understands" dialogue.

The Constant Gardener (Fernando Meirelles, 2005)
Run-of-the-mill political thriller.

Crash (Paul Haggis, 2004)
Strange film in which everyone seems to be completely obsessed by racial issues (see also Munich, discussed below). Watchable, but hard to see the point (assuming that the point is supposed to be more than simply: "Wouldn't it be nice if everyone wasn't racist?"). Earnest, maybe, but ultimately just plain silly.

Date Movie (Aaron Seltzer, 2006)
Perhaps I chuckled once or twice, but this scrapes the very bottom of the 'spoof movie' barrel.

Epic Movie (Jason Friedberg & Aaron Seltzer, 2007)
The bottom of the barrel having been scraped clean away, we're now just digging down into the dirt and shit beneath.

Expiry Date (Karen Bird, 2006)
It's not every day that you see a Welsh comedy-horror film. If this puerile piece of shit is anything to go by, then we should all be thankful for that.

The Family Stone (Thomas Bezucha, 2005)
To be honest, nothing much about this film has stuck in my memory, other than the fact that the characters are all smackable twats whose conception of the logical space of possible political stances is primitive, dogmatic, and parochially American.

Gadkie Lebedi (aka Ugly Swans) (Konstantin Lopushansky, 2006)
Overly pretentious Russian sci-fi with plenty of atmosphere but nothing substantial to offer beyond vaguely sketched metaphors. (
The book on which it's based may be better, but I honestly don't know.)

Heart of America (Uwe Boll, 2003)
I've seen three different post-Columbine high-school massacre films, and two of them were superb (Elephant and Zero Day). As Meat Loaf said, two out of three ain't bad; unlike this film, which was very bad indeed.

Inosensu: Kōkaku Kidōtai (aka Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence) (Mamoru Oshii, 2004)
Boring anime sequel about robots, or something.

The Lives of the Saints (Chris Cottam & Rankin, 2006)
There's no story here at all, just a vague idea for one. For the first 60 minutes, it seems like it might go somewhere; but this is merely an illusion which dissipates over the final 30 minutes, leaving only the cold realisation that people actually fund pointless shit like this.

La Marche de L'Empereur (aka March of the Penguins) (Luc Jacquet, 2005)
I disliked this for two reasons: first, the subject matter has already been covered with greater competence (by, e.g., Attenborough's Life in the Freezer); second, the interpretation and explanation of the penguins' behaviour is naively anthropomorphic and shockingly non-scientific. The tagline says it all, really: In the harshest place on Earth, love finds a way.

Munich (Steven Spielberg, 2005)
I don't feel qualified to comment on the relationship between this film and the historical events on which it's based. And I don't have anything to say about the politics of it all; then or now. I disliked it because of the characters, who are depressingly obsessed with issues of race, and whose self-conceptions are defined entirely by their own racial origin.* A set of cunts, the lot of them. The only thing that kept me going - throughout the excruciating two and three-quarter hours duration - was the hope that I might get to see a few of them die horribly (no joy there either, unfortunately; a few of them do indeed die, but not sufficiently horribly).

[*I suppose that this comment on the characters could be interpretable as a comment on the history or politics of the situation. Either way, that's not my intention. My reaction to the characters would have been the same had it been a work of pure fiction.]

Point Break (Kathryn Bigelow, 1991)
This was shown on TV a while ago, and I watched it out of curiosity, since it was so heavily referenced in Hot Fuzz. Prior to this, I'd had no inclination to watch it, because I'd assumed it would be shit. And I was right.

Rescue Dawn (Werner Herzog, 2006)
Considering that this is the work of a world-renowned director, it's very disappointing. It's a plain, simple, straightforward Vietnam POW escape story. It's neither badly directed nor badly acted; it's just dull, and rather old-fashioned (I mean, seriously, who makes Vietnam films these days?). If you edited in a couple of scenes featuring the main character's family, and coloured the credits in yellow, then you could easily mistake it for a made-for-daytime-TV melodrama with a housewife-heartstring-tugging title along the lines of
Mommy, When Is Daddy Coming Home?

Serenity
(Joss Whedon, 2005)
God-awful rip-off of various aspects of the Star Wars films in conjunction with several other well-worn sci-fi elements, to be duly fawned over by Joss Whedon's fuck-witted Buffy-loving army of inexplicably existent fans.

Syriana (Stephen Gaghan, 2005)
So tedious I can't remember a god-damned thing about it. Even after reading a few online synopses, my memory remains steadfastly blank. Apart from Clooney's beard. That, I do remember. Unfortunately, a well-remembered beard doth not a memorable movie make.

Thank You For Smoking (Jason Reitman, 2005)
Some films based on books seem to scream: THIS IS A SCREENPLAY ADAPTED FROM A NOVEL! I'm not always exactly sure why this is, but I guess it often has to do with the presence of narration-heavy sequences of fast-edited no-dialogue shots. You can almost feel the hand of the screenwriter at work, struggling to transform a story told in an essentially linguistic medium into a story told in a principally visual medium. As far as I'm concerned, this is a mark of cinematic failure. It's a shame, because this film does feature a few very funny scenes, especially one where tobacco industry spin-doctor Nick Naylor discusses with movie producer Jeff Megall a possible product-placement deal:

Megall: Sony has a futuristic sci-fi movie they're looking to make.
Naylor: Cigarettes in space?
Megall: It's the final frontier, Nick.
Naylor: But wouldn't they blow up in an all oxygen environment?
Megall: Probably. But it's an easy fix. One line of dialogue. 'Thank God we invented the ... you know, whatever device.'

36 Quai des Orfèvres (aka Department 36) (Olivier Marchal, 2004) I'd heard that this was like a French version of Heat but, as we all know, you shouldn't believe everything you hear. Heat is one of the best films ever made. This isn't.

Unrest (Jason Todd Ipson, 2006)
Stupid story about a cursed cadaver ending up in a medical school. Not in the least bit scary. I've felt more tension waiting to hear a valuation on the Antiques Roadshow.

V for Vendetta (James McTeigue, 2005)
Sort of like The Crow crossed with Equilibrium, but not as good as either. The main character is thoroughly annoying, and the politics are too facile to be worthy of serious discussion.


Volver
(Pedro Almodovar, 2006)
This could have been interesting, but it all added up to nothing much in particular. I've had it with Almodovar. All his films are disappointing slices of nothingness. Verdict: do NOT vote for Pedro.

21 August 2007

Reeker

(Dave Payne, 2005)

I'm going to tentatively recommend this. There are some negative aspects: it's not an entirely original plot, and the delivery of the "twist" at the end is annoyingly patronising, with a long montage of explanatory flashbacks obviously designed to guarantee that even the most thick-headed members of the audience can retrospectively comprehend what has happened. But on the plus side, the direction, dialogue, pacing and acting are all well above-par for a horror film of this type, and there are plenty of nice funny touches throughout. Also the SFX are basic but very effective.

Saw III

(Darren Lynn Bousman, 2006)

I wasn't hoping for much, especially in the wake of the frankly irritating Saw II, but this is actually the best of the series so far. Of course, the story is a bunch of bollocks. But it's twist-laden gore-filled torture-horror, and if that's what you're looking for then that's what you'll get, so the fact that the story is a bunch of bollocks is really beside the point. I like the fact that there are still some bunch of bollocks horror franchises kicking around. I was a big fan of
the Elm Street films when I was younger. That was a bunch of bollocks too. But I liked watching Freddie being witty while slicing people up, and I was always willing to sit through another installment. It's good to have a contemporary horror franchise such as Saw taking up the reigns and pumping out sequels. (Final Destination is another current franchise that does its job well - it's a bunch of bollocks plotwise, but it ticks the "gore" and "clever twist" boxes with a sufficient degree of competence to keep me watching).

20 August 2007

28 Weeks Later

(Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, 2007)

Jesus wept, this has to be one of the most uninspired zombie films viral thrillers I've ever seen. If you're going to make a zombie film viral thriller in this day and age, you need to do something new with the genre. Or you need to do the same old shit, but throw in some fucking good gore. This does neither. Plus it's yet another film where the director has opted to shake the cameras around so that you can barely tell what's going on (as opposed to choreographing genuinely sophisticated action sequences that look effective from more stable camera shots).
I didn't realise until the end credits that this sequel was not directed by
Danny Boyle. I don't know how that fact passed me by. I just assumed it would be Boyle. Whether he'd have done a better job than Fresnadillo, I do not know. Fresnadillo gave us Intacto, which was pretty good, so why he made such a fuck-up of this, I also do not know. (All in all, there are many things about directors I do not know. Why Raimi made Spiderman, for instance.)

Hard Candy

(David Slade, 2005)

A young girl meets an older man, initially through the internet, and subsequently in real life. She's gonna tie him up and have his nuts for ear-rings 'cause she's convinced he's a kiddy fiddler. But he says he isn't. So is he or isn't he? Oooh, the suspense! Actually, the initial stages of the film build up an incredible sense of foreboding, but when it all kicks off, it isn't really as gory and horrific as I'd hoped, and the twists and turns near the end utterly sapped my patience. Still, as a film that consists largely in one long dialogue between two characters, it was very well scripted and acted.

CSA: The Confederate States of America

(Kevin Willmott, 2004)

Fake documentary based on the premise that the confederates won the civil war, the emancipation proclamation was overturned, and slavery continued to exist until the present day. The alternative history is quite cleverly done. The whole thing is presented as though you're watching a US TV channel (except of course it's not the USA, it's the CSA) airing the documentary, which was made in the UK and previously banned in the CSA. The only problem is that it's just not quite funny enough. If they couldn't think of any more decent gags, then they should have bitten the bullet and made it a completely dead serious, dark and disturbing satire, rather than aiming for more of a "lighthearted chuckles" satire. The most interesting things are the commerical breaks throughout the feature, which include adverts for all manner of products with racist / slavery-based brandnames and logos. Some text comes up at the end of the film explaining that all of these products really existed at some point in US history ("Coon Chicken", as featured in Ghost World, is one of them).

La Science Des Rêves (aka The Science of Sleep)

(Michel Gondry, 2006)

As I watched this film, I felt convinced that it was supposed to be about a man (or possibly two aspects of the same man) struggling to recognise and resolve a metaphysical conundrum concerning perception, reality, and his own personal identity (or, perhaps, identities!). By the end, however, I realised that I must be wrong. The man turns out to be more or less unaware of the existence of the conundrum, which itself remains unexplored and unresolved by the film. What remains is a despressing and pointless story charting the social ineptitude and confusion of a man with some kind of mental illness. The effects of the illness are interestingly illustrated, but rather than being a source of insight (and drama), they are simply a means by which the viewer ends up sharing the man's confusion.

A Scanner Darkly

(Richard Linklater, 2006)

My experience of watching this film was very true to my experience of reading Philip K Dick books (even though I haven't read this particular story): it's basically interesting, but slightly old-fashioned, it fails to cash out the potential of its own ideas, and it somehow feels lacking in pace and resolution. The animation helps to convey the phenomenology of drug-taking, and thankfully saves the viewer from what would otherwise have been a bunch of actors making lame efforts at pretending to be muntered (think: The Breakfast Club spliff scene). But Linklater already showed us this visual style (with a much better story, and to much greater effect) in Waking Life.

Night at the Museum

(Shawn Levy, 2006)

This is an unusually old-fashioned kids' film. Or maybe it isn't. Maybe all kids' films are written like this, but I don't watch enough of them to be aware of it. Either way, it was clichéd and predictable. If you could instruct a computer to automatically generate a film according to a general blueprint, this hollow, empty and lifeless piece of work is probably what you'd get as the end product. To make matters considerably worse, the whole thing is accompanied by one of those full-on orchestral scores that make you want to grab the composer tightly by the balls and shout "STOP TELLING ME WHAT TO THINK AND FEEL!"

15 January 2007

An Honourable Mention

Even though I'm not in the business of reviewing TV series, I was sufficiently impressed by the Japanese TV anime series Paranoia Agent to give it an honourable mention. I'm not going to say much about it, because then I'd be reviewing it, and like I said, I'm not in the business of reviewing TV series. I will say this, though. I was originally going to see it at the Leeds Film Festival back in November (they were showing all 13 episodes in 4 separate screenings), but as the first episode began, two things became distressingly apparent: (1) they had chosen to screen a version dubbed by American voice actors, rather than showing the subtitled version; and (2) they had somehow managed to screen the 1.78:1 image on what appeared to be a roughly 4:3 screen without any letterboxing (i.e., the picture was stretched vertically to fill the entire 4:3 screen). So ... I walked out, put it on my DVD rental list, and soon had the pleasure of watching it in the comfort of my own home in all its subtitled 1.78:1 glory!

05 January 2007

Brick

(Rian Johnson, 2005)

If there's one thing I can't stand, it's noir-style Chandleresque detective bullshit. Consequently, I've found myself in the position of loathing several generally well-regarded films. One example (which enjoys a status of almost Biblical proportions among screenwriters) is Chinatown. I've made two attempts in my life to sit through this ponderous film, and in each case failed to last more than about twenty minutes before experiencing the onset of a particularly acute sense of rigid boredom. (No further attempts are likely to be scheduled.) Another, more recent, example is Sin City, which I endured in its ridiculously overstretched entirity only because I'd paid cold hard coin to see it in a cinema. Sure, it looks nice; but all it really amounts to is yet more dreary old bollocks about dangerous dames, world-weary private dicks, shady characters inhabiting dockland areas, and enigmatic one-word clues hand-scrawled on the backs of nightclub matchbooks.
Now, given that the aim of Brick is to transpose genre conventions such as these into a contemporary high-school setting, I was, as you can imagine, extremely wary about the prospect of watching it. To my astonishment, it works brilliantly. Yes, there is a potential stench of contrivance about the way that familiar high-school character types are played up as slick-talking detective-genre types (loner kid = world-weary private dick; rich bitch = dangerous dame; school bully = shady thug; etc., etc.). But the unreservedly surreal results of this transposition entirely freed me from any presupposition that I ought to be taking things seriously (which is the main thing that annoys me about detective stories in the first place); especially when we're introduced to gangland drug overlord, The Pin; who is, in fact, a disabled kid who lives in his mum's basement.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (aka Tommy off of TV's Third Rock from the Sun) plays an absolute blinder in the lead role, and the script and direction are crafted to perfection. This film has atmosphere dripping out of every orifice. Watch it.

The Hours

(Stephen Daldry, 2002)

This is strange. A biopic of the final days of Virginia Woolf intercut (rather overenthusiastically, it has to be said) with two entirely fictional stories apparently bearing no more meaningful a relation to Woolf than that they involve certain themes (e.g., lesbianism, illness, suicide) relevant to both her life and her novel, Mrs. Dalloway. The question is: why? A straightforward biopic of Woolf wouldn’t necessarily have been as interesting (especially in terms of narrative structure) but would at least have been possible to interpret. Similarly, a biopic of Woolf intercut with a screen adaptation of Mrs. Dalloway could have formed a more coherent whole (and offered some structural complexity, especially in those scenes where we see Woolf making decisions about the direction of the novel’s plot). But a biopic of Woolf intercut with two distinct yet thematically similar fictions? I understand the idea, but I really don’t see the justification for it. It just seems so arbitrary, like if Oliver Stone had intercut The Doors with an independent fictional piece about a man who happens to enjoy drug experimentation, writing quasi-mystical poetry, and getting his cock out.
The Hours is a decent, well-made, well-acted film. It just left me with a bad aftertaste; the sour flavour of unwarranted randomness.

The Hours @ IMDb

04 January 2007

Dark Remains

(Brian Avenet-Bradley, 2005)

A young couple mourning the recent murder of their child seek solace and relaxation by moving to an isolated woodland cabin. Close to their new home, they discover an old abandoned … ah, let me see, what was it now? … an old abandoned ice cream and cookies factory? … no, wait, that wasn’t it … think, think … what was it? … an old abandoned workshop in which a nice old lady used to handcraft little knitted woollen jackets for puppies to wear in winter? … no, no, that wasn’t it either … fuck me, what was it? … ah, yes! I remember now … an old abandoned prison / mental asylum … of course it was! … how it could it not have been!
From this threadbare set-up, a crude form of plot is gradually hacked out, but the exposition is badly handled, and the need to bring a sizeable cast of secondary characters into play somewhat undermines the original premise (wasn’t this supposed to be an isolated retreat?). So far, so shit. The only positive thing I can say is that it’s nice to see some J- and K-horror influence in a Western horror film (without it being a commercially calculated US remake of an already established East Asian success). Ghosts appear, subtly and for fractions of seconds, in the corners and backgrounds of shots; and when they come straight at their victims, they move at high velocity. So there are, to be fair, a few decent scary / freaky moments. Scariest of all, though, is the casting decision that landed such an uncharismatic pair of planks in the two lead roles.

Dark Remains @ IMDb

Colour Me Kubrick

(Brian W. Cook, 2005)

Based on the story of Alan Conway, who blagged loads of money and free lunches in early-nineties London by pretending to be Stanley Kubrick. The story itself is fascinating, which means that the slightly sluggish pacing of the film does no real harm. Likewise, the effort put in by Malkovich (as Conway) is more than enough to counterbalance the occasionally awkward script and lack of co-acting talent (for unknown reasons, Jim ‘The Laughing Fascist’ Davidson features in a minor role). The film is peppered with Kubrick references (both visual, and in the soundtrack) which also add nice touches (I love references, but I’m not sure why; maybe it’s the satisfaction to be derived from ‘getting’ them).

Colour Me Kubrick @ IMDb