Sunday, 29 May 2011

Now I Shall Have To Recover From That Disgusting Sight.

After so long in the wilderness (has it really been that long?) I thought I would start with something light.

Firstly, some history. After living it up in Berlin for a few months at the end of last year, I returned to London for a couple of weeks and then flew back here to my homeland, just in time for summer to really kick in. Summer was mostly spent hanging around on beaches and catching up with friends before I started work in late January. Since I got home, I've probably managed twenty or thirty films, but I haven't kept a record, and I don't really want to go back to all of those that I never got around to writing about last year because they are now so far in the past. Maybe I'll just list them. Yes, that's what I'll do.

Thirst 3.5*
Bent 2.5*
Boy A 5*
Mary & Max -unrated
That's not even all of them. I didn't write all those I watched in Berlin down. And then there are those I watched here. Oh well. Those star ratings are things I've just come up with now. Preseumably they're at least partially accurate.

And on to today's film.

Thursday, I was at home and my housemates were out. One of them was staying in the city, the other I wasn't expecting home until about ten, so I put Saló, or the 120 days of Sodom on in the main room (I normally watch them in my little space out the back) figuring that it would be pretty much done before he got home. 45 minutes in he came home right as a whole bunch of naked boys are running down the stairs - I had to convince him I wasn't watching kiddie porn. He then said 'oh, that's the one that was banned, right? The one with the shit-eating and skull-fucking.' I then thought it wasn't something I necessarily wanted to put myself to sleep with that night and put it on hold.

Last night I braved it. Yes, there is shit-eating. No, from what I saw, there isn't skull-fucking.

It's an interesting film, that's for sure. Based in part on the writings of Dante and the Marquis de Sade, it centres around four men of power, who, in the final days of Mussolini's fascist Italy, take nine boys and nine girls to a mansion in the country, accompanied by a number of male collaborators with guns and a few older female prostitutes. The prostitutes recount stories from their lives, incidents that happened to them generally at a young age, and then the men of power with the help of the collaborators act out ever more obscene, grotesque, demeaning and violent acts for their sexual gratification.

It's all about power. A not-so-subtle metaphor for fascism. Writer/director Pier Paolo Pasolini has said that the shit-eating relates to his hatred of mass-produced food. These things are not hard to see, if you're so inclined, between the lines of attractive young men and women being beaten, whipped, sodomised and walked on leads.
But the film is horrifying. In the 'scary' sense, not the 'terrible' sense. Some parts are almost erotic, towards the beginning, when you can still hold out a little hope of salvation, but as the film goes on it becomes more and more debauched, leading to the finale where each of the men of power take it in turns to play voyeur as the boys and girls are killed in horrible and brutal ways.

I appreciate the metaphor, I really do. I truly appreciate the bravery of Pasolini in crafting a film such as this, a film that has been broadly denounced as pornography over the years, but is anything but. (Similar, in that sense, to Shortbus, though definitely with the latter's overall upbeat feeling...) But I do wonder whether it began to be shock for shock's sake. Whether these themes and ideas couldn't have been expressed with a little more delicacy.

Though, I'm in two minds about that. Part of me thinks it wouldn't have been so shocking and controversial, and wonders if that wasn't part of the point. Another part of me thinks 'to hell with it!' Why shouldn't it be shocking and confrontational? I mean, the fetishes so brutally portrayed do exist, and there are people out there who willingly subject themselves to such degradation in the name of pleasure. (And by calling it degradation, am I selling short their own consent?) It's not exploitative if all were of age, and there's no way the themes and ultimate outcome of the film could have been hidden from any of the cast members. The notoriety attached to the film guarantees that all going into it know what they have coming. (Family First be damned! The warnings are there, let the consenting adults choose for themselves. This doesn't inspire me to go out, kidnap some teenagers and make them eat my shit!)

As a whole, I'm more inclined to think of the film as an intriguing exercise in delving into sexual mores and how they can represent a sick society, in this case those pesky fascists of the second world war. And as a trailblazer for anti-censorship and pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable, and what consenting adults have the right to choose between. As a whole, maybe if I were a little more familiar with the source material, or had I been better connected to a similar regime, then maybe the ideas would have resonated with me. But as it stands, I'm just going to go with it being ok. Interesting? Yes. Confronting? Hells yeah. Brilliant? Possibly, but I'm not entirely sold. (And why does it not surprise me that it is Haneke's fourth favourite film?)

2.5 stars.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Five Again Take Three.

Take Three of about a million and a half, at this rate. I've watched four more films since the last one, so I'm not really getting far ahead...

This was unexpected. I've watched most of David Lynch's films (with Eraserhead coming up, it leaves Inland Empire and Dune as the only two features left - I finished reading Dune a month or two ago, so I'll have to hit that up some time.) Known for his crazy, dense, almost incomprehensible films, The Straight Story was a blast from left-field for Lynch, being, as it were, a straight story. Simply, it is the story of Alvin Straight, an old man who travels six weeks on a ride-on lawnmower to visit his dying estranged brother. Going blind and with only minor use of his legs, it is a heartwarming story of tenacity and family, and the personal rewards that come from doing something everyone says you can't. Richard Farnsworth was Academy Award nominated for his role, and was backed up very well by Sissy Spacek as his mentally disabled but very bright and caring daughter. A beautiful story well told, and a surprising entry into David Lynch's catalogue, further cementing his 'great' status. 4 stars.

The DVD for Brighton Rock was another floating around the living room when I didn't have anything to watch, and I'd heard something about the remake in the preceding few days, so I thought I'd check it out. And it was quite good. A very young Richard Attenborough takes on the lead role of Pinkie in this inter-war crime film set in the eponymous English seaside town of Brighton. Pinkie is the precocious leader of his gang, showing very little fear in the face of anything that comes his way, who marries beautiful waitress Rose (Carol Marsh) to keep her quiet. As he starts to lose his grip on his gang and on the Brighton scene, he becomes more and more desperate and violent. Attenborough is terrifying in his role, precipitating a long and fruitful career both in front of and behind the camera. The remake (or should I say readaptation of Graham Greene's source novel) doesn't seem to be getting the same props as this 1947 production, so it's well worth checking out. 4 stars.

Ah, Harmony Korine and Lars von Trier. Dogme 95 was previously explored here, and looked at Korine here. Korine (uncredited) was writer and director on Julien Donkey Boy, the sixth entry in the Dogme 95 movement, about a severely dysfunctional family comprised of undiagnosed schizophrenic Julien (Ewen Bremner), his sister Pearl (Chloe Sevigny) who is also carrying Julien's child, his brother Chris (Evan Neumann) and deranged father (Werner Herzog - brilliant.) It's a wholly disturbing film complete with the Dogme look of verging-on-amateur, though the gravity of the story and depth of the performances ensures you're never fooled into believing this is anything but the real thing. Korine has a way of making films that are quite physically unsettling, and I find them often quite hard to sit through, though that isn't to take away from the power of his stories. 3 stars.

1969 - what a year. Costa-Gavras' Z powered into the Oscars with five nominations, including for both Foreign Language Film and Best Picture, taking home both the former and Best Editing. A not-so-subtle indictment of the Greek government at the time (though officially a work of fiction, I believe, with a starting disclaimer that any resemblance to real life is entirely deliberate), the film examines judicial and governmental moves to silence a burgeoning leftist movement in the unnamed country (again, definitely meant to be Greece, though the film was primarily shot in Algiers and is in French...) It's a brilliant piece of filmmaking, throttling the viewer with its viewpoint and forcing your engagement every step of the way. I'm not familiar with the rest of Gavras' work, but I'm definitely keen to rectify that. 5 stars.

In my head, 24 Hour Party People was a totally different film. I can't think now of what I was getting it confused with, but it certainly wasn't what I watched, which is why I put it off for so long. The story of the Manchester club and music scene in the late 80s and early 90s, the film primarily focuses on Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan), a journalist who becomes a budding promoter and club owner, brought up and down by his own hedonistic decadence and belief in himself, at the same time seeming to compromise the very vision he pioneered and propagated. Looking also at the rise and fall of bands such as Joy Division, Happy Mondays and New Order, it is a fascinating and very entertaining look at this time, filled with frequent fourth wall breakages to insert actual memories and commentary on the time. Director Michael Winterbottom and writer Frank Cottrell Boyce both work splendidly to create this masterful biopic of an era, as told through one man. 4.5 stars.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Round Two of Five At Once.

Right, I'm fairly well on record on not being Christian Bale's biggest fan, but this DVD was fanging about in the living room and I had nothing to watch and I kept hearing such great things about, and about his performance (I'd heard similar things about his showing in American Psycho, and we all know how that panned out...) I think the points given to him in The Machinist are for his weight loss, which yes, while demonstrating incredible commitment, also demonstrates a level of insanity - boy, that's going too far. And he still seemed like Christian Bale. Emaciated, but still him. An interesting tale of being haunted by your conscience, it might have played better if Fight Club hadn't done such a bang up job a few years earlier. I remember being a little scared in a few points, but I shit myself over anything. 2 stars.

Have I mentioned that I love Atom Egoyan's name? Yes, I think I might have here. His name will always draw me to his films. Of course, whacking Julianne Moore in there is going to go a long way towards me heading out to see it also. I liked The Sweet Hereafter, but not so much Chloe. It was fine, I guess, but it didn't grab me the same way. The family drama was all a little off. Moore was terrific, as always, but I didn't quite gel with Amanda Seyfried and Liam Neeson. I just don't think they quite worked. (Max Thierot was cute though...) And the cerebral nature of everything kept it all a little cool and distant - the white rooms and glass everywhere, I can see where it was going with the kind of sterile environment and how that plays against the drama within, but it was all a little too much. It was a fine film that could have been great but in the end I feel that it missed it because of lazy visual cues. 2.5 stars.

Man, I totally don't even know where to start with Aguirre: Wrath Of God. Werner Herzog is one crazy, crazy guy. Like, seriously. Nuts. Brilliant, but loopy. I definitely don't think I can contain all that is this film in such a nutshell. Klaus Kinski is the titular Aguirre in a South American expedition to find El Dorado. He takes charge, seizes power if you will, and leads his troops or whatever onwards against all common sense, coming under attack from all sides, until eventually his men are hallucinating and he is proclaiming himself the wrath of god whilst covered in monkeys. No, really. Herzog really laid the groundwork for many of his latter films with this one. Kinski is terrifyingly mad, Herzog is terrifyingly creative, and the film somehow works for it all. It's mental, absolutely mental, but such a riveting piece of filmmaking, and seemingly such an influence on films such as Apocalypse Now (I'm seeing it - anyone else?)(In looking back, that's another film I watched and didn't write up. Damn.) 4.5 stars.

This is a film I really want to spend time on. But I must be strong. Abbas Kiarostami is a genius, he really is. I really enjoyed Close-Up, I loved loved loved Taste of Cherry, and now I really liked Ten as well. His is an oeuvre I really need to explore in much more depth, and repeatedly. Here, he has ten episodes of customers (or a son) in the passenger seat of a van, driven by their psychologist, who is interacting with her as she drives them around Tehran. It's such a simple concept, all taking place within the car, but it is a masterclass in what can be achieved with so little, and so simply. It is truly beautiful and a wondrous look at the often ignored stories of the women in this part of the world, opening them up not as victims of repression but as people just like the rest of us. Without it ever feeling like that is what is going on. Truly marvelous. 5 stars.

The major thing I can say about Food, Inc. is that is has changed the way I eat. Literally. I pay so much more attention to it now. To where my produce is coming from. To its content. I'm shopping more at farmer's markets when I can, but when I can't I'm doing everything within my means to make sure I pay attention to the lessons learnt from this film. Because they are many. The film follows in the footsteps of other docos like The Cove that are truly terrifying, particularly affecting (I've only eaten salmon twice since watching The Cove, and I used to eat salmon a lot. And they don't even mention salmon!) I can't recommend it highly enough, but be prepared to be very challenged about your habits. As a look at the global food industry, it is a horrifying exposé. Overly didactic and preachy in parts, perhaps, but when dealing with a subject as important as this one, a little bit of ramming down the throat probably doesn't go astray. 4.5 stars.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Long Time...

Right, a few things have happened. I've moved to Berlin. It had been in the cards, but it then all became concrete in a very short space of time, and then I left, and then I had to find a place to live, and now I have and I'm in Berlin and I love Berlin and I am only here for a couple of months so I'm going to try and make the most of it. Of course, I love films, so they are going to keep popping up, but there's no way I'm going to hit my target of 365 over a year - I'll be very lucky to hit 270 I think. Still, a good effort considering.

I'm also way behind on writeups, so I'm going to give some very brief notes on all of those that I'm behind on over the next few entries, spreading them out a little.

First things first:

I'd never seen Oliver Stone's Wall Street until recently. Never. It had always kind of drifted around wanting me to watch it, always there hovering somewhere in the middle of the list of titles I want to pick up. Probably due to the recent release of the sequel I finally got it out. I gotta say, I didn't overly love it. Michael Douglas' performance in it was fine, but even that didn't really wow me. Strong, yes, but not mind-blowing. Some good moments, the 'greed' speech being obvious, but I've never much liked Charlie Sheen either. That phone of Gordon's is hilarious. And sure, it was entertaining enough, towards the lower level of enjoyment. Let's go with 2 stars.

I saw Inception right when it came out in the UK (that's how far behind I was to start, and then the last almost month in Berlin has taken even further behind...) and came out of it really, really liking it. Visually amazing, though goddammit I want to see Leonardo DiCaprio smile at some stage soon - after Shutter Island and then this I'm so tired of his furrowed brow, and I know he can do other things. Joseph Gordon Levitt (future husband) I loved, but I'll love him in pretty much anything, and Tom Hardy gave his character a difference to what one might imagine for his Hollywood breakout - his Bronson promise will hopefully come good. I thought the film as a whole was very cerebral, very clever, but lacked an emotional core. I sense that the Marion Cotillard segments were aiming for it, but I don't think Christopher Nolan managed to pull that off. Now that I think about it, his films always seem a little detached from the heart. It is a terrific film, a very showy piece that doesn't go over the top, and what it does show, it shows well. I don't understand how people found it confusing - if you're paying even half the attention any film deserves, they spell it out pretty clearly as to which dream layer you're in. Very good, but not great, and a couple of months on my desire to rewatch that was very strong after exiting the theatre has become a general feeling that it's not necessary for me to go there again any time soon. Very entertaining, but not earth-shattering. 4 stars.

I was alive in the 1980s, but only just, and I've never much liked the period. It's only recently that the fashion, the music, the general vibe of the decade hasn't grated on me, so I'm putting the blame for having never seen The Breakfast Club right in the court of the 80s in general. John Hughes' seminal teen flick starring Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwals and Ally Sheedy was fun to watch with its broad characterisations and strong stereotypes. As a basic introduction to cliques and generalised judgements of character it works well by keeping it light while introducing us to the characters. Maybe if my viewing of it had been more timely, instead of twenty-five years after the initial release, my opinion would be different. Maybe if I sat down and laughed and watched it with friends I'd have enjoyed it more. That being said, it was fun, but it's not in my own personal canon. 2.5 stars.

Melissa Leo gives a tour de force performance in Courtney Hunt's debut feature Frozen River, which won the Dramatic Prize at Sundance in 2008 and netted Leo a deserved Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Leo is single mother trying to get together the money to pay for her new double wide before the cut off date when she loses her deposit when luck finds her united with a native American people smuggler. On the border of the US and Canadia, the pair take people back and forth between two reservations on opposite sides of the frozen river that is the national border. It's a marvelous story of what two different women will do for their children in very different circumstances. I wasn't a huge fan of the ending, it all felt a little 'righteous Hollywood', but there's no denying the power of Leo's performance. Hunt is surely someone to watch. 3 stars.

When I saw that Caligula was the next film on my list I did kind of laugh out loud. This film is a fucking mess, but a brilliant and hilarious mess nonetheless. It was only after the fact that I realised there are about a trillion different cuts out there, and I saw the tamest, shortest one. I'm half inspired to go and find the original 7000 minute version or whatever, but then I also remember how bad this was, and despite the camp hilarity, do I really want to do that again? Though the cast is terrific - Peter O'Toole, Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren, John Gielgud - it is a ham-fisted mess, apparently directed by Tinto Brass though with financing from Penthouse's Bob Guccione really directing the themes of the film and what goes on screen. Caligula is the young heir to the Roman throne, and after doing away with his predecessor takes over, becoming quite popular despite his eccentricities. There's a bunch of debauchery involved. There is incest and intrigue and coercion, and finally Caligula is murdered. It really is a terrible film, but so terrible as to be almost entirely watchable. I will one day hunt down the longer version. 1 star.