Archive for November, 2008

It’d be a pretty cold bastard who didn’t want revenge for the death of someone he loved.

November 1, 2008

Friday 31st October 2008

Quantum of Solace (2008)

Its weird to find an obvious link between A Bloody Aria and James Bond’s 22nd outing; one being a brutal Korean film that not many people will ever see, the other being a multi-million dollar big budget blockbuster that not many people won’t see. Yet find an obvious link I have – here are two films that are utterly consumed by the idea of revenge.

Its perhaps weirder still to find that I actually enjoy a big budget blockbuster, least of all a James Bond film, but fucking hell, this was brilliant.

I was worried at first by the pace of the film. As Daniel Craig effortlessly parkoured across the rooftops of Venice, much in the same vein of previous Bond outing Casino Royale, I was struck by just how un-Bond it all was. You could never imagine Connery or Moore taking things at such a breakneck pace, and the influence of messrs Bourne and Bauer is palpable here. But as the film progressed, and to be fair slowed down a bit, it found its feet and I was really pulled in to it. The fact that the film dealt with issues from the previous film giving it an actual arc for once, really allowed us to delve deeper into Bond’s character for once, which the stand alone plots of most of the previous films don’t really allow us.

Craig of course plays Bond as a much harsher and colder character, free from the shackles of the one liners and expected cliches, and is in fact much ‘cooler’ for it. This is exactly how Bond should be, and closer to how he appears in the original Flemming books. It was hinted it in Casino Royale but the laying to rest of Roger Moore’s playing it for laughs Bond is finally acheived here.  He’s so different he’s hardly recognisable. Its the little things that really hit it home. For instance could you ever imagine any of the previous Bonds having a beer at the bar? I doubt it.

But yet there was the odd bit of fan service and homage to keep traditionalists happy. But just slightly tweaked to ally it with the new Bond, such as Gemma Atterton’s rather cruel Goldfinger mimicking fate. Maybe it was just me but I also felt I saw homages to Don’t Look Now with the church scaffolding scene near the beginning and even the Western at the end with the desert railroad. Maybe it is just me, but the point is, the film has depth, that allows even a cynic like myself to appreciate a film that I was preparing myself to lambast.

The film also allowed for some rather astute political commentary. In one scene an English minister comments to M that ‘We can’t be expected to pursue foreign policy on the basis of hunches and innuendoes’.  A rather obvious comment on the Iraq war I felt. I also was surprised as to how clearly the American’s were painted out as so duplicitous and conniving. For a film, who’s key audience will be the USA to take this stance, I guess indicates how far America has dropped in its own esteem and that of the international community.

Anyway I’m drifting from the point here a little. Bottom line, this is Bond how it should be – a cold, ruthless killer consumed by revenge. It harks back to cruel nature of the oft-criticised George Lazenby one off classic Bond On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. I don’t think there has been a better Bond since then, until now maybe…?

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Sometimes you have to lose yourself ‘fore you can find anything.

November 1, 2008

Thursday 30th October 2008

A Bloody Aria (2006)

The quote in the title of this post is from Deliverance rather than A Bloody Aria, A Korean film I caught at the ICA this week. The quote is included because A Bloody Aria takes on John Boorman’s city folk menaced by country hicks plotline, but conversely whilst all the characters seemingly lose themselves here, by the end of it noone has really found anything.

On a day trip through the countryside, aspiring opera singer In-jeong flees to the woods to escape the advances of her lecherous professor and mentor, Yeong-sun. When a seemingly harmless local man offers her a ride to the bus station, In-jeong thinks she’s found her way out – until he insists that they stop to meet his friends, a disturbed group of country-bred thugs. In-jeong finds herself reunited with Yeong-sun and it slowly becomes clear that the pair is being held captive to participate in the gang’s sadistic mind games.

The film was an odd affair, in that it creates a fascinating character study, but it does not follow the standard filmic characterisations. There are no stand out heroes, nor anti-heroes. Pretty much everyone in the film is out for themselves, and they are all painted out quite cruelly. Sure some of the characters are more vicious than others but by the end of it you aren’t really rooting for any of them , and you wouldn’t be particularly surprised or even displeased if they all massacred each other in a big blood bath. Thats not to say at all that this was a bad film, quite the contrary. Indeed it is this particular departure from filmic standardisation that makes it stick in my mind.

The film deals with the effects of bullying, from a school playground variety to institutional varieties such as the army or the police. Arguably each character is the the way they are due to some form of bullying and we are left wondering what kind of person they were at the outset. Were they pure and just blackened by their torment or was there something there already which was merely coaxed out by this terror? A Bloody Aria offers no simple answer to this question as the lines between good and evil are not so much blurred as completely ignored. This is illustrated perfectly in the film where In-jeong must place her fate either with a man who has tried his darnedest to rape her, or a group of murderous thugs. This is just one example of the film’s utterly nihilistic world view.

The other key theme of the film is the idea of revenge and retribution. This of course is closely allied to fellow Korean, Park Chan-Wook’s filmic expositions on revenge such as Old Boy and Lady Vengeance. This lead me to ponder just what it is about Korean culture and society that instills these themes?

In a nutshell this film is a moral tale with no morals.

Why don’t we just wait here for a little while… see what happens…

November 1, 2008

Wednesday 29th October 2008

The Thing (1982)

‘Lots of men, scared!’

This was the note I scribbled to myself in an attempt to gage my immediate reaction to the film. Sums the film up pretty well I feel.

I’m in the process of giving myself a John Carpenter education having recently acquired the new Optimum boxset. This was the first pick from that set, and despite what I said about cult/youth movies in my Near Dark post I actually found this pretty enjoyable, even close to 30 years out of its original context. It was hugely atmospheric based as it was in the frozen tundra Antartica, in a research station manned by a ragtag group of American men, who slowly turn on each other as they become invaded by a shape shifting alien force.

The film for me was a lesson in isolation and paranoia. Its possible I believe to view the film not just as an alien sci-fi tale, but a  warning of the perils of isolation. Everything that happens in the film could be hallucinations brought on by ‘cabin fever’ a la Jack Torrance in The Shining. In this instance though it takes on the form of a kind of mass hysteria in that theres a group of guys there.

Maybe all they needed was the calming influence of a woman…?

Listen to the night, it’s deafening.

November 1, 2008

Monday 27th October 2008

Near Dark (1987)

Now follows my attempt to get festive with the halloween spirit and watch some scarifying movies. I started out this week with Near Dark, Kathryn Bigelow’s vampiric road movie western romance. I’d missed this one growing up, and having been bemoaned by friends for having never seen it I decided to break this one out of the Box of Blood boxset. I unashamedly love Bigelow’s Point Break anyway so why not eh?

Visually, the film captures the crepuscular atmosphere suggested by the title perfectly, forever drifting liminally in the ‘twilight zone’. Whilst the characters amongst the vampire gang were all genuinely quite unnerving – particularly the ‘kid’ vampire Homer, and Bill Paxton’s character. But I felt more could have been made of these character studies rather than focussing on the love story between Caleb and Mae.

On the whole, while I appreciated Bigelow’s playing with genre conventions and mish mash of styles, this film actually didn’t do too much for me. I was disappointed by this fact and it lead me to question the whole ideal of ‘youth movies’. No matter how good they are, I feel they’re best experienced on the groundfloor – in the context and the zeitgeist of their original release period. The Goonies was my favourite film growing up and I still perennially revisit it from time to time. A friend had never actually seen this film. After pressganging him to watch it, I was shocked to find that he didn’t enjoy it. But I can understand that a little now, because unless you have that memetic association from your own juvenescence with any particular ‘youth movie’ you’ll likely be missing something.

Life’s like a ball game. You gotta take a swing at whatever comes along before you find it’s the ninth inning.

November 1, 2008

Monday 27th October 2008

Detour (1945)

I’m now getting in danger of doing what I do whenever I undertake writing a diary of some sort – I end up getting way behind and having a backlog of entries to catch up on. Well I watched Detour on Monday (its now Thursday) so its not entirely fresh in my mind. Really the whole point of this blog is to record my immediate thoughts rather than researched and measured ponderings. But I shall persevere nonetheless.

Detour as it happens is an absolute gem of a picture. Shot by Edgar G. Ulmer for one of the so-called ‘poverty row’ studios at the end of the War in 1945, its a film that grabs you from the start. Mostly because it follows the paint by numbers film noir formula, but hell it just works, so who’s complaining. Rogert Ebert sums it up best when he describes the film thus:

“This movie from Hollywood’s poverty row, shot in six days, filled with technical errors and ham-handed narrative, starring a man who can only pout and a woman who can only sneer, should have faded from sight soon after it was released in 1945. And yet it lives on, haunting and creepy, an embodiment of the guilty soul of film noir. No one who has seen it has easily forgotten it.”

Beyond the usual air of paranoia and degredation that inflicts most film noir, what really kept my attention with Detour and what kept me thinking long after the film had finished, was ideas of chance and fate. Tom Neal’s character Al Roberts is a hitchhiker and every trial and tribulation he meets is of course a direct result of which particular drivers he manages to hitch a lift from. What is the difference between chance and fate I wonder? Is it fate or chance that Roberts happens to be in Charles Haskell’s car when Haskell suddenly drops dead? Everything that happens in the film sits in this dichotomy. Its weird to imagine an alternate film where he gets picked up by a different car, gets the girl he wants and everything is peachy. Probably wouldn’t have been a very interesting film, but my point is completely different paths can emerge from the simplest of actions. I’m probably not making much sense. Serves me right for waiting so long to write about this film. Sorry, I suck as a blogger clearly.