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…?


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.

Possessions never meant anything to me…

October 28, 2008

Wednesday 22nd October 2008

Glory Daze (1996)

Shallow, cliched and barely amusing. But somehow I just about managed to enjoy this. Enjoy is a strong word perhaps, but the film gently stirred some nostalgic rose tinted memories of the mid-1990s, and inspired me to stick on some NoFx records.

I find as i grew older, and as time marches on, the 1990s as a decade hold much more resonance. Grewing up I always used to look on at the knowing reverence people threw at the 1980s and couldn’t understand it, but I guess at the age I am, the 1990s is my version of that. It was as I have hinted at in previous posts probably almost as bleak a decade as the 1980s, in the first half at least, where politics and society is concerned anyway. But as a person the 1990s was the decade that I made the leap from bright eyed primary schooler, throw gawky teenagedom and nudged at nascent adulthood. I had the majority of my defining young moments in that decade and obviously there it means a lot to me. So for that reason I am drawn to cultural artifacts of that era even if, as often is the case, they happen to be a little cringesome. Glory Daze can probably be filed under that category.

Ben Affleck plays that young adult who is just not ready to grow up yet and as embarrassing as it is, that was me in the late 1990s. I remember one particular night at the end of June 1998 lying in my room listening to OK Computer, being depressed because most of my friends were at Glastonbury and I wasn’t allowed to go, and pondering how sad it was that we had to grow old. For a while I became a modern Dorian Gray and felt that beyond the age of 18 I should either find a magic portrait to keep me young forever or just end it all…

Of course 10 years later I’ve obviously done neither, but please allow me my own version of staying young forever by indulging in the sickly sentimental ‘yoof’ movies and music of my teenage years. Bring on Before Sunrise, Reality Bites, Dazed and Confused and Nofx, Screeching Weasel, Millencolin etc etc etc… Good Times. Good fucking times….. I think…

There’s a Man Goin’ Round Takin’ Names

October 28, 2008

Tuesday 21st October 2008

Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988)

Today was an inspiring day, both in the conversations I had and the things that I saw. I feel inspiration flowing through me at the moment and I only hope that I can channel all this into something worthwhile. I rounded off a long but fulfilling working day with a trip to see Terence Davies’ luminously brilliant Distant Voices, Still Lives – a film that has, I’m sorry to say, passed me by for years.

Oddly I was stultified as to what to say about this film for almost a week. I have to be fair also been incredibly busy with London Expo and what not. But there was something undefinable about Davies’ film. It seemed merely to exist without demanding too much of the viewer. Perhaps thats just a convenient excuse that I’m employing to avoid analysing this film, I don’t know…

What I can say is that it was a beautiful film. And coming from me that is saying something. I normally find British cinema, paricularly of the bleak Northern, snapshot of the working class variety a little…well…bleak… I’m a big fan of the ‘kitchen sink’ gritty realism and the documentarists such as Humphrey Jennings and later the Free Cinema movement. But somehow, beyond that I find more contemporary accounts of British life a do little for me. Davies’ film of course is not strictly contemporary, being 20 years old, but its in my lifetime at least. But anyway yes, I digress. I found this film completely inspiring and beautiful, not because of what it represented perhaps but due to the syle of representation. The film is fundamentally a musical, with the ensemble cast gently crooning songs of the 1940s/1950s around pub tables, but its so subtle and seamless that you barely even notice the songs drifting through the film. But by the end they somehow make this a more inspiring portrait of a group of lives that otherwise would be dreary and hopeless…

Here’s to sugar on the strawberries!

October 17, 2008

Thursday 16th October 2008

The Swimmer (1968)

I went in on this film completely blind, other than that I knew it starred Burt Lancaster as someone who swims through people’s swimming pools to get to his house. I was expecting a pleasant meandering little melodrama at most.

It started of much in that way, I was a vaguely amused by the quaint and quirky nature of the plot and characters. Burt Lancaster’s character, Ned Merrill, appears from nowhere in his trunks besides some old friends’ pool. The conversational too and fro-wing that ensues is typical of the 1960s American middle class. Everyone is very jovial and they all call each other ‘darling’. Burt Lancaster’s dialogue was slightly odd, but I put this down to poor acting! Ned suddenly realises that he can swim from pool to pool across the county all the way to his house, where his wife and lovely daughters are waiting for him.  Fairly quirky, but fairly straightforward nonetheless.

Pretty soon however the film develops into one the most dark and brutal character studies I’ve ever seen. It gradually becomes clear as Ned splashes from pool to pool, that he is actually insane; and evidently due to the reaction he receives from people who have known him more recently than the old friends he meets initially, he has upset most of these people in a big way too. Suddenly all the things that I’d previously took for quirkyness, such as the plotline, or Ned’s dialogue are seen in a completely different light. He’s not kooky he’s an utter nut job.  And now I’m also left questioning where he had actually appeared from, out of the middle of nowhere in his swimming trunks and nothing else. A mental home? Prison? Its all left gloriously ambiguous, but of course the wife and daughters waiting for him are long gone by the time he reaches home, and the house dilapidated and overgrown.

Its funny I think of some of the scariest men in celluloid history – Norman Bates in Psycho, Harry Powell in The Night of the Hunter – and I’d actually be tempted to put Ned Merrill up there with them. He didn’t kill anyone (at least not in the lifetime of the film, but where are his wife and daughters?), but he just had that really unsettling quality that unfortunately accompanies those who have lost control of there mental faculties.

Of course ultimately it was all just terribly sad. The film, and the original story by John Cheever, supposedly serves as an allegory. For what I’m not too sure. It just seemed a thoroughly dispiriting existential slice of life.

* Theres actually loads more I want to say on this film but I have to get to work. Might add some more later!

Getting lost in London…

October 14, 2008

Tuesday 14th October 2008

Bigga Than Ben (2008)

‘Sacha Baron Cohen it isn’t.’ These aren’t my words, rather those of some dickhead on imdb, doing absolutely nothing to dispell the notion that anyone that posts on said website has as about as much filmic knowledge as Rob Schneider’s left elbow. Bigga Than Ben is a rather gritty insight into the unseen underbelly of immigrant life in London, which yes in its first couple of acts is occasionally blackly comic, but there isn’t a scene of naked fat guys wrestling to be found and that anyone could even compare Bigga Than Ben to the frankly piece of shit film that was Borat is just sad

That said I didn’t actually think Bigga Than Ben was great movie. I felt it lost its way half way through. The ducking and diving in the first two acts was great viewing but when the relationship of the two main characters Spiker and Cobakka fell apart, so did I felt the film’s narrative.

On a personal note, having heard director Suzie Halewood speak about the film after the screening telling of her trials and tribulations in making it, I was greatly inspired in my own efforts to make something for myself of artistic significance. But what sustained my interest in the film and what continued to weigh on my mind post viewing was this expose of that part of the city populous that we walk past everyday, but perhaps rarely stop to think about their raison d’etre. We get so caught up in bemoaning imigrants, legal or otherwise, that rarely do we ever stop to think about why these people here. And I don’t just mean because Britain has a soft touch immigration policy, but what has pushed these people here from their formal abode? Undoubtedly, your average immigrant road sweeper in London has lead a more fascinating life than John Smith from down the road who was born, lived and died in the same leafy suburban town. But we never stop to think about that, we just see the foreign face and move on.

Traveling home on the 25 bus I pondered on how it was unsurprising it is that this hidden part of London life remains so. Trying to view London from a tourist’s or, dare I say it, an immigrant’s viewpoint; all I could see almost from Covent Garden, where I caught the film, to my home in Whitechapel was tall gray office blocks and Pret a Mangers. A world in which the immigrant population is generally found keeping your office tidy whilst you sleep or serving you your chicken caesar sandwich at lunch. Blink and you miss it. But somehow a significant proportion of the country still manages to complain about it.

I now suddenly want to know the story behind every single diaspora, and more importantly behind the individual faces that we’d otherwise pass by unknowing, uncaring.

Pitter Patter Goes My Heart…

October 14, 2008

Monday 13th October 2008

Gardens of the Night (2007)

An interesting Monday evening at the London Film School. I had no idea to what to expect about this film, having not heard anything at all or about it, or much about the director Damian Harris, other than that he directed The Rachel Papers in the late 1980s and was the late Richard Harris’ son. I almost didn’t go to this screening at one point, but was damn glad I did.

The film was particularly bleak and harsh, taking in as it did child abduction, paedophilia, child prostitution and a whole host of other storylines which err about as far away from feel good as you can get. Yet strangely this film did make me feel good. It never suggests for a moment that the world we live in is anything less than a horrible never ending succession of harsh indignities and evil people wanting to exploit you. The key is how one deals with things, particularly when faced at a crossroads. The key character, Leslie, in Gardens of the Night comes to a point where she is forced to decide between continuing the cycle of abuse and violence that has inflicted her own horrific life to this point, by inducing another child into a similar situation. Or, alternatively, she must decide to break the cycle – by guiding the child away from the horror and thus going some way perhaps to saving herself. Of course, the latter is a lot easier said than done. When abuse and terror is the only life you know, it must become ingrained within your psyche and you may well see no logical reason as to why others shouldn’t suffer as you have. Breaking free of the only life you know, whether it has been a horrible life or not will always be a trial.

Obviously in our own buttoned down sheltered lives we’d hope that we never have to face the horrors that the characters in this film are forced to go through, but we’re all engaged in seeking to do whats right both for ourselves and those around us. Every day we have to make decisions and quite often the easiest path isn’t always the ‘right’ one. For my own self I took one decision last night that was hard for me to make and I absolutely just about almost took the infinately easier path, but I psyched myself up, took the difficult route and even if nothing comes of it, I feel far better for having taking it.

Anyway, back to the matter at hand, Gardens of the Night does not currently have a UK distributor attached to it. According to Damian Harris this is because most distributors walked out after the first 10 minutes or screenings, so harsh was the film’s opening. If they had have seen the whole thing through as I did though they would have been rewarded with an ultimately ambiguous but in my view absolutely optimistic life lesson.

The lesson? Don’t always take the easiest decision and don’t walk out on a film after only 10 minutes.