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Monthly Archives: June 2014

Bong Joon Ho has a new movie out – that is always an event to look forward to. His previous “Mother” was outstanding, and “The Host” was a very very strange variation on the “monster comes down to haunt a city” topic – strange in a very relaxed way, as if the extra-ordinariness of the event is a mere side note.

And this is what links The Host to “Snowpiercer”. We have an extraordinary situation, outlandish in its eccentricity: the world has frozen over in a freak accident after some well-intended weather manipulation. Now what’s left of civilisation is huddled up in a high-speed train that circles the planet. Nobility and working class, spa cars and slavery work included. There is not too much discussion about the practicality of the arrangements, but the tone is rather one of “let’s assume this could be plausible”. Of course there is dissatisfaction and rebellion in the train’s rear end, of course there is a military-like suppression of all such rebellion with whatever violent means is necessary. It is not really clear what the elite class gains from their survival and segregation of the poor class, but maybe that lack of clarity is always present in segregated societies.

But then they rise, the army of the misfits… under the intellectual leadership of John Hurt, no less, who is one of those actors I am always very very  happy about seeing, and who I am always very very confused about seeing, because I keep thinking he died decades ago. Widely exaggerated, he’s still around and saves half of the film through his presence. Of the other half, a third is saved on the other end of the train by Tilda Swinton, who must have had the time of her life playing the … liaison officer between the train’s front and rear end. This is over the top in all possible manners, think Willy Wonka high in speed, and on a high-speed train, as it is. Lovely teeth, too.  Song Kang-ho gives the cool and wicked Korean nerd criminal, Ed Harris the evil leader coat, but when it comes to fighting the just fight, it is Chris Evans who has to do the heavy lifting. Maybe not the best choice amidst all this acting nobility, he comes across as a bit of a generic action hero figure.

As a romping and stomping action drama, with a bunch of outlaws fighting their way through a very long train, this actually works most of the time. The narrow confines of the train structure allow for a lot of vertical kinetic energy, with very little place to hide (unless you find some fat people in sauna cubicles). The choice of occasionally cutting to an outside perspective on the train is not the best one, as the whole winter landscape and cgi snow effect department was not quite up to the task. It actually conjured some fond memories of much better and dramatic train sequences, such as in particular in the more recent “Transsiberian” and the more mature but insurmountable “Runaway Train”  (ohhhh… have to watch that one again, and soon!)

What happens on the train stays on the train, as they say, and what is on the train makes for some very solid and dense atmospheric action cinema!

66% of top critics at Rottentomatoes think “Zoolander” is good rather than bad… 66%… my only assumption can be that the world is coming to an end very soon. Only very rarely did 80 minutes feel so long. … I am having a quick but comprehensive run-through on my life now, and after complete assessment I have to say I cannot think of any 80 minutes that felt longer.

No talent was involvewd in the making of this film. There are no laughs in it, there are no noteworthy performances, the three leads Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson and Will Ferrell stand out as embarrassing themselves without appearing in any way funny. There is a very uncomfortable celebration of stupidity going on. The critic from New York Magazine correctly pointed out that it is not possible to do a spoof of an industry that is already as grotesque as the fashion industry. Others pointed out that it was just plain unadulterated fun, so those people have to be dismissed as having the humour of a two year old boy who cannot get tired of fart and dick jokes and playing with their own poo. So be it, the names are noted…

A very uplifting little French take on the power of motherly affection, on the heart-warming effects of maternal dedication, and the feeling of vulnerability pregnancy leaves many women with. “Charming” would be the word, if not for the fact that one such mother is on a massacre spree, and her key target is a mother to be (to be tomorrow, as in “this is the night before she is supposed to go to hospital to deliver”). The latter really does not know what she did to deserve this level of attention, nor do all the other people who get in the way of “The Woman’s” (Beatrice Dalle! Where have you been all those years??) wrath.

Think “New French Wave of Really Disgusting Horror Movies” with Korean motives of female revenge sprinkled on top, and you are halfway towards how disturbing this is.

The film is relentless is introducing known, spooky elements (woman on the door, woman on the window, woman in the background of a picture taken in the park…), and upping the ante one by one. Only when it’s time for climactic confrontation, it just won’t stop. There’s more. And more. And more…  I won’t argue that the plot is the most credible ever conceived, nor that the almost comical avoidance of getting rid of that damn woman on part of everybody including a whole flock of policemen carries any sense of realism. On the other hand – at some point you understand that however many opportunities for escape and counterattack are offered, SHE will always fight back, and leave some bloody prints on the scenery. (I particularly like this sentence from the short Variety review: “… laughs dependent on whether skewers in eyes tickle the funny bone.”)

This is cringe-inducingly violent to begin with, and I dare the world’s behavioural psychologists to set up lab experiments with pregnant ladies and assess how many of them can watch this for how long. My guess is that of a sample of 1000 women a maximum of three endures, and I would suggest to keep a good distance between yourself and those particular three girls…

Not suitable for antenatal lady’s nights…

P.S.: Beatrice Dalle – where HAVE you been indeed…

Steve Coogan and Judy Dench – what can go wrong, really? Not much, and Stephen Frears manages a beautiful thing: he forces Coogan into a serious, somehow sad role of former journalistic and political hotshot, now demoted to serve as hired hand of human interest story-telling. But he does not allow Coogan to lose his sense of humour, his “The Trip”- or “Alan Partridge”-sharpened weapon of mocking himself and the rest of the world with a flick of the tongue. And at the same time, Dench is not just cast as the melancholic mother searching for a son long lost, as an old-fashioned Damsel not really keeping up with the pace of modern times. Occasionally she shoots arrows of humour, filth or honesty at her surroundings that make the whole scenery stand still, mouth gaping open, aghast … WTF?

It takes both these iconic actors at their very best to hold up this quite tricky story: while starting as a straightforward quest for Ms Philomena’s son that was torn out of her arms when she was nun in a monastery, this story arch is surprisingly soon resolved and deflated. Only to be replaced with a wider narrative about the cruelties girls like her were subjected to, and about the ignorance and soullessness and outright evil that the institutions involved represented – and still represent in their unwillingness to stand up to their past.

The best bit about “Philomena” is that wherever the danger of eruption, of spectacle lurks around the corner, of violent and hateful final confrontations, Stephen Frears shouts “Apage!” and takes the mellow route, the realistic route that is not less painful, but in line with the attitude of this particular elderly lady who has certainly spent all her rage and fury long ago – if she ever had any to begin with.

Blood will flow… heads will roll… hardly ever have those standard issue gang war sentences been taken so literally by a film maker…  Wikipedia cites the Norwegian film classification board as calling the film to depict “high impact violence and cruelty” and keeping it out of the theatres for that reason. A very accurate and sober description, I have to say.

This film is about a war between several Yakuza gangs, triggered by the butchering of one of the gangs’ boss, Anjo. Then Anjo’s guys and some other guys and some other guys’ guys venture out to find who did what and kill everybody who might have done something. A particularly memorable encounter happens between Kakihara, played in creepy and jolly fashion by Tadanobu Asano, the interim leader of the Anjo gang, and a Mister Suzuki, the latter experience an intense period of suspension (haha! Oh wicked humour of the … well, wicked… ), but only until the misunderstanding is settled and Kakihara admits to having been a split-tongued bastard.

Kakihara is kind of a bad-ass Joker, waiting for the next extreme experience in his life and facing it with a grin all over his grin-cut face (which allows him the neat trick of blowing cigarette smoke sideways out through his cut cheeks – something that goes down well at a certain category of party, I am sure). Despite his generally humorous approach to sado-masochism, he takes it on himself to find the killer who slaughtered his boss and somehow to “keep the band together”. As rumours narrow down to a certain Ichi being said killer, it all moves towards a face-off between those two. The quest will render more faces off and other parts of other bodies in a detached state.

Ichi is correctly described at some point as a whining and weepy kid. He cannot get over the trauma of watching a girl getting raped in high school and not only being unable to intervene, but also actually getting aroused by the experience. As a result, he dresses up like a Ninja-Batman and tries to figure out whose death will remedy the evil deeds of the past.

This sets the tone for a lot of what’s happening in this politically and aesthetically most incorrect of all films. Sadists meeting masochists, torturers having a field day, slicing and poking and chopping until there are literally fountains of blood spurting all over the place, intestines piling up and limps flying across rooms. I kid you not.

There is not much arguing that this is a film for audiences of a certain deviant taste. It should be noted, however, that there is almost always a comical atmosphere of grotesque theatre, taking the edge off the most gruesome scenes. The topic of this gory stage play is revenge and violence, and how some people consider violence a form of artistic expression. I think nobody with a mature mind will confuse this with glorification of violence (the depiction of the somehow negative consequences of violent acts are actually quite… graphic…), but out of the people I personally know, I would judge 90 per cent would still find the film too revolting to watch. The other ten per cent will have a field day, and will celebrate Takeshi Miike for another bit of evidence that he is something between a sick genius and genuinely sick…

(side note on the plot: I am in general unable to follow a somehow twisted plot in a setting that makes me constantly shout “woah?” or “yiiieks?”. Hence I was not just a bit surprised about the details of the plot as described in the Wikipedia entry.. )

Everybody loves “Blue Ruin” – it is one of the critics’ and festivals’ favourites of the last year, and it becomes immediately apparent why this is so. Revenge films, skilfully derived plots to make the murderers of a poor child’s family suffer decades later, we have seen all that, and plenty.

Blue  Ruin is the “neorealist” version of this, with proper crooks, and proper weapons, and proper victims, but with all the things that are complicated about taking revenge, about hurting and killing. It is the revenge film equivalent to that famous Hitchcock saying that he wanted to show how very difficult it was to actually kill somebody when directing the killing of Gromek in “Torn Curtain”… and it’s not just taking revenge, it is also difficult and messy and painful to endure injuries during such a quest – and counter to popular (certainly Rambo-educated) belief it is not very easy to pull put the head of an arrow from your leg, not easy at all.

A lot of the tension of “Blue Ruin” comes from the fact that Dwight (whose parents were killed years ago, and who is now out to take revenge) must realise this. He is not a trained killer. He is a bum, actually, without the physical or technical skills to take on a bunch of hinterland wildlings who apparently have been in the business of hurting and killing people for generations. What makes Dwight a hero  – in this twisted sense of doing the wrong thing, but for understandable reasons and against an apparently overwhelming enemy – is that he accepts his deficits and acts according to his best abilities anyway. He has nothing to lose, his life having long slipped to somewhere near the edge of existence. So he is taking step after step, not because he would be in a revenge frenzy, but he set himself a task, and completing that task involves revenge itself as well as limiting damage to others.

There is a little bit of traditional revenge style twist to be found (some deus ex machina with shooting skills comes to mind), but even that does not affect the overall feeling of naturalism, of things turning out one of several possible ways, and of things happening in front of a beautiful and beautifully shot backdrop of one of those American regions “between places”, where nobody seriously wants to live, but that still seems to be full of people with their own agendas and troubles…

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