Rather than rant on about the new generation of pop video turned feature makers I’ll direct you to a far more illuminating article than I could muster. Gondry is one of the more talented film-makers than his peers in my opinion, his films are a breath of fresh air in a cinema of conformity and predictability, whilst retaining a more genuine centre than the stylised efforts of Spike Jonze or Sofia Coppola.
So, what’s this one about? Good question. If you find out, can you let me know? Following the death of his father, Stephane returns to his families cramped Paris apartment and soon strikes up a friendship with his new neighbour Stephanie - straightforward rom-com fare right? Well, what sets this apart is that Stephane ‘suffers’ from a overactive imagination (and that’s the understatement of the century !!) and a penchant for lucid dreaming which spills over into all aspects of his life.
One thing you can’t accuse Gondry of is a lack of imagination, the autobiographical nature of the film is explicit. This picture brims with ideas and visual splendour, combining conscious action with dream sequences (some times you’re unsure quite which is which), stop motion animation, spatial distortions and outlandish mise-en-scene which all combine to make this a charming romantic fantasy and a splendid companion piece to Gondry’s earlier ESOTSM.
It’s also very, very funny. The supporting character of Guy, Stephane’s friend at the illustrators he takes a job at almost stole the picture for me. It’s the first time Gondry has tackled a narrative film without the benefits of a Charlie Kaufman script and he seems more than capable of standing on his own two feet. I think we have our first entry in 2007 films of the year.
I wasn’t one of the acolyte’s of ‘Shaun of the Dead’, I found it entertaining, with some very funny sequences but it wasn’t much more than an extended ‘Spaced‘ episode. Still, the boys behind both ‘Shaun’ and ‘Spaced’ know their movies which gets them a tick mark in Minty’s book, and they’re back with Hot Fuzz, a distinctly British take on the action movie genre which is tag-lined as ‘An episode of Heartbeat directed by Tony Scott’.
Pegg is Nicholas Angel, the Met’s rising star whose arrest records are embarrassing his superiors in the capital. He is dispatched to the sleepy west country village of Sandford by Bill Nighy (who it seems is mandatory in an English film, he’s taken on the mantle that Rhys Ifans had a few years ago) where the escape of the village swan is considered a serious incident. Gradually, the veneer of the town disintegrates as Angel investigates a series of gruesome accidents and uncovers the town’s dark secret……
It’s rare to find an intentionally funny film these days and this has it’s moments – it’s worth seeing, but don’t rush out to catch it at the cinema. It’s certainly half an hour too long and the adrelinine fuelled finale seems incongruous against the previous material. There are some sly nods and references to ‘The Wicker Man’, ‘Straw Dogs’ and many other cult pictures which will ingratiate it with film nerds such as yours truly, along with some mainstream slapstick and sight gags which will keep the proles content.
Curiously, I saw Nick Frost in Twickenham last week, coming out of a newsagents. He didn’t have a Corneto though. He must live in the area as it’s the second time I’ve seen him out and about. The obligatory link to the Guardian Q&A here.
Should movies be seen on the big screen, at the risk of enduring a noisy, frustrating audience who can ruin the experience for you, or do you opt for the best home cinema system that you can afford? Hmm, I tend more toward the former, as nothing beats seeing a movie as it was intended, with strangers, in the dark – although recent experiences (I think I mentioned it here but I walked out of Babel recently due to the antics of another viewer) have swayed my judgement. A interesting debate occurs here, where do you stand?
Here is a superb review of one of last years best films, which I criminally missed from my yearly round up – ‘Miami Vice’. Spoilers abound, so beware if you haven’t seen it. Full sequences are floating around on YouTube, the best of which is here – quite simply this is one of the finest action sequences I’ve ever seen.
It’s almost two years to the day since the good doctor left us, so here is a fine BBC documentary from 1978. I keep meaning to get round to reading more Thompson, like most I only ever got through ‘Fear & Loathing’. Must try harder.
If my post on Bresson wasn’t pretentious enough for you, here is a round up of last years best films, as voted by serious minded film academics. On a wider scale, every ten years ’Sight & Sound’ poll to establish the best film ever made, which is taken very seriously by the global film intelligentsia. It’s just great fun to have a look through and check out some of your favourite critics or directors opinions. Michael Mann’s is superb, although I’m sure I read somewhere that ‘White Heat‘ is his favourite film ever. I guess the best doesn’t neccessarily translate to favourite. It’s like ‘Repo Man‘, it’s not the best film ever made, but god-damn that picture will never be pushed out of my personal top ten – ‘the more you drive, the less intelligent you are’, absolutely god-damn right.
Zombies!! I have almost finished the superb World War Z by Mr. Brooks (Mel Brooks son, apparently) and very good it is too. It would make a cracking pseudo documentary film, and should Joel Silver or Jerry Bruckheimer be reading this – don’t smirk, it could happen – I would be happy to take a shot at the directors chair. This is good fun, and is good practice for the inevitable apocalypse.
Well, let’s begin with a true cinematic yet relatively unknown auteur – Robert Bresson. I say relatively unknown as he does not regularly appear in the list of great directors such as say Hitchcock, Hawks, Welles or Godard, but like them all his films carry elements of the same preoccupations, the same subjects and obsessions explored again and again. For me this is the mark of a true auteur – content synthesised with recurrent stylistic choices, exploitations or corruptions of standard film grammar that visually explore their themes of choice.
Bresson, along with the three Jeans – Cocteau, Vigo and (of course) Renoir is considered one of the greatest pre-war french filmmakers and out of the four he’s my favourite. His is a cinema of transcendence, of redemption and release - his deeply held Catholic beliefs inform all his works to one degree or another (and it’s no mistake that they also strongly reference guilt and crime, like a precursor to Scorsese) both overtly and metaphorically.
I caught two of his most famous works from the 1960′s ‘Au Hasard Balthazar‘ and ‘Mouchette‘ on a double bill at the Curzon Mayfair a couple of years ago, and together they serve as perhaps the most depressing four hours I’ve ever spent at the cinema. That sounds negative, but this was intentional on the part of the films, unlike say a Michael Bay double-bill. They are both incredible pictures but the continual stress on suffering, misery and the inhumanity of the human race to animals and children respectively is overwhelming. For Bresson in this stage of his career, the only release comes with death and the possibility of divine redemption.
Just to be clear, I have picked four films from my on-line memberships to use as reminders of my subject and comment on at least four movies by the director of choice, preferably with some films previously unseen. For Bresson I’m managed three new films and one (L’Argent) I saw many years ago on BBC2.
Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne- This is less of a recognisable Bresson film, and was a slight disappointment for me as I had read a great deal of praiseworthy reviews. It’s much more of a conventional love triangle with brief flashes of ‘Bressionian’ redemption (especially in the final sequences) but the delectable Maria Casares is so beautifully lit and shot you tend to overlook it’s rather straightforward, conventional plot. That’s probably me being stupid and failing to detect the subtle nuances and symbolism in the picture, perhaps another viewing is required in a few years. Anyway, it’s early 20th century France and a man and two women embark on a series of affairs which eventually result in revenge. The ubiquitous David Thompson throws some light on the film here.
Pickpocket- I first discovered Bresson when he was cited by Paul Schrader as a major influence on his work, and Schrader speaks eloquently about Pickpocket here and here. It concerns the career of a disaffected young parisian pickpocket, and his embrace of a life of crime on almost nihilistic grounds. Schrader homaged the end of both ‘Light Sleeper’ and ‘Amercian Gigolo‘ from ‘Pickpocket’, and you can clearly detect elements of the transcendental in his other work, particularly ‘Affliction’ and his remarkable Exorcist film. This is one of Bresson’s more famous films, where the minamilist approach was fully realised. Not much to add to Schrader’s illuminations, other than to say this is a good starting point for any consideration of Bresson as it most fully exhibits all his trademark characteristics.
L’Argent- This was Bresson’s last film, made in 1983. No music, no close ups, no real characterisation- this is perhaps the most minimalist film ever made, as the evils of money and on a wider scale the dehumanisation of the capitalist system is assualted in a compact 60 odd minutes. It’s not as avant garde as that makes it sound, it still has a traceable narrative arc, but don’t expect any explanations for the characters actions, all of which makes the explosions of brutal violence all the more shocking and affecting. This is my favourite of the four, perhaps on more nostalgic grounds as there is a sequence toward the end which plays with characters, framing and editing (I can explain more if you see it, it’s the bit with the dog going upstairs and downstairs) that I have always vividly remembered, such was it’s impact on my irst viewing. Terrific stuff. As you can see, his win at Canne didn’t go down too well (maybe that clip will make Sofia Coppola and Richard Kelly feel better considering their recent festival experiences !!)
The Passion of Jean of Arc- at 76 minutes, this is another brisk effort, and for me was another vaguely unsatisfying film (I do like this guy, honest !!) due to it’s intense dedication to historical accuracy and my personal aversion to religious idolitry. Joan of Arc has been served well in film, and seems to get another bio-pic every decade or so. Bresson insisted that the dialogue was lifted from court transcripts of the time. The very end, like ‘Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne’ rescues the film as again Bresson demonstrates a unique approach – Joan is shown tip-toeing to her cruel end, as the camera traces her swift walk to the funeral pyre – only her feet and calves are revealed; a burst of smoke and flame dissapate from the pyre showing no evidence of a body or heretic – Joan’s piety has been rewarded. I suspect 99% of other directors would focus in on her face, the emotional core of her sacrifice – Bresson instead implies a joyous road to atonement.
I was first attracted to Bresson by his similarity to Kubrick – I stumbled across him when reading some of my first film books due to their similar supposed distanced, nuanced approach to film - compare Bresson’s mannequins in ‘L’Argent’ to the astronauts in 2001 for example – and a desire to explore the nature of narrative and story itself. Such dedicated auteurs are almost extinct these days, Lynch springs to mind (he currently seems to be trying to film dreams which is pretty ambitious !!) but I’m stumped for other examples.
I have been trying to track down a copy of his version of the Arthur legend Lancelot du Lac for quite a while now, although I’m sure it’s available on mail order from somewhere. I imagine a quite different interpretation of the legend than those of Boorman or Antoine Fuqua.
Next month – probably to keep on the world cinema track, Luis Bunuel – apt since their is a season on him at the NFT at the moment and I’m off to see ‘The Exterminating Angel‘ tonight. Despite the name, it’s not some 1970′s exploitation ultra violent revenge flick, more’s the pity…..
What happened to the directors of the nineties? As illustrated in this article, it seems that some of the wunderkids have been resting on their laurels, or are hesitant to follow up some of their major success with risky, challenging projects. Darren Aronofsky seems to have no problems with the latter, it’s taken him six years of development hell to follow up on ’Requiem for a Dream’ with the ’The Fountain‘ which finally hit UK shores last week. Whilst you have to admire his chutzpah, it’s a dismal failure, not to the extent of Cimino’s ‘Heavens Gate‘, but still a major mis-step.
Rachael Weisz and Hugh Jackman star in three inter-weaved plots – In the 16th century Jackman is a Spainish conquistador who is dispatched to Guatemala to investigate the Fountain of Youth by Queen Isabel (Weisz), in present day New York Jackman is research scientist / doctor, frantically developing a cure for his wife’s terminal brain tumor, and in some unidentifiable future Jackman’s snogs a tree. Oh, no, sorry – apparently he’s a 26th century astronaut in search of a nebula that will re-unite him with his soul mate - I believe that is culled from the graphic novel as this is never alluded to, discussed, explained or advised – one of the first failings of the picture.
The film leaps back and forth between the three stories in an effort to link the three threads to some unexpressed final purpose. OK, so are we saying that love springs eternal? That the same stories are repeated thoughout history? Are these two souls whose spirits are reincarnated in love again and again? Aronofsky and his DP seem to have bathed the master negative in gold, so each shot is a garish, visually cluttered eyesore. I noted a number of ‘god-shots’ with the camera facing down on the action as if from the POV of some omnipotent spirit, no doubt in an effort to symbolically underline the epic nature of the tale – it doesn’t work. Coupled with this is a fascination with circles and rings, no doubt again to allude to the similarities and echoes through the other strands – it’s not quite the nausea inducing ‘circle of life’ from the ‘Lion King’, but it’s not far off.
I love challenging pictures – movies that attack the status quo and challenge the traditional assumptions and practices of telling a story – ‘Last Year in Marienbad‘, ’Rashomen‘ heck even ‘Scream‘ in their own ways have taken a different path. But that effort needs to be rooted in some sense of story or you simply confuse and alienate the audience. This could be overlooked had the chemistry between Jackman and Weisz overcome these shortcomings, but I was not convinced that these were eternal soulmates, merely two confused A list stars who were at the mercy of a incoherent director. It’s one of these pictures you’ll love or hate (the critical fraternity seem to fall into two distinct camps) , take my advice and rent ‘Back to the Future’ to get your time travel/rom-com fix instead.
For last weeks cinema visit I tried something completely different – a silent movie. It’s part of an unusual season at the NFT, Out of the Shadows – 50 Cinematic Masterpieces. I’ve always been more of a Keaton fan than Chaplin, but Harold Lloyd still wins my favourite silent comedian prize. I wistfully recall rushing home from school to see a double bill of Lloyd two reelers on BBC2, armed with a mug of weak squash and packet of jammie dodgers. Ah, those were the days…….
In 19th century gold rush country, a deep feud develops between two families - the Canfield’s and the McKay’s. Keaton (one of the McKays) inherits the old family home which his mother fled with him as a baby many years before, after the dramatic murder of his father. En route back to his birthplace, he meets and falls for a young lady (yes, she turns out to be a Canfield) and then learns the value of ‘Our Hospitality’ as it is not permitted to kill a McCay whilst a guest in a Canfield’s (or any other) Southern Gentleman’s residence. The plot was loosely inspired by the real life Hatfield-McCoy feud which was in vogue at the time.
This was great fun, sometimes sitting through movies like this can be a chore (I recently got through all three hours of ‘Intolerance‘ which was hard work) but this was a genuinely funny, entertaining and engaging picture, despite it’s 80 year vintage. You can really see the development of comedy on a broader scale, as many of the gags and situations have been repeated ad nauseum in cinema, TV and on the stage over the years – I think Keaton invented the deadpan, ‘ knowing wink’ to camera which for me is echoed in Will E Coyote’s resigned face as he falls another 10,000 feet from the Arizona mountains, another hair brained scheme foiled by the elusive Road Runner.
There is a quite simply breathtaking stunt toward the end of the film when a rope secured Keaton swings to snatch his beloved away from certain death as she plummets over a waterfall - this got a round of applause as we all knew this was done in-camera, with serious risk to life and limb – no CGI in those days mister. I can’t find a link for it via the usual methods, I’ll try to track it down…
Also heartwarming was the laughter of the half dozen or so kids that were also present in the audience. They certainly weren’t bored and their enjoyment I think encouraged the adults in the auditorium to be a bit more appreciative of the film. There, you see even a jaded old cynic like me can occasionally be moved by the laughter of a child. What’s next weeks scheduled film I hear you ask? Oh, it’s a little number called ’The Exterminating Angel’…..
Well, my first exhibition visit of the year, and given my poor track record, probably the last. It was at the White Cube, and was a new exhibition by Anselm Kiefer. To be honest, I’ve never heard of this artist before – I’m such a philistine – but anything to broaden the cultural horizons eh?
I quite liked the exhibtion, but wasn’t blown away. The most effective elements were the large pieces in the basement section of the cube, and the two towers they’ve erected (snigger) in the courtyard of the Royal Academy of Arts a stone’s throw away. After this we managed a visit to the Photographic Portrait Prize exhibtion at the National Portrait Gallery which was more up my alley. There were some great pieces in this, particularly striking was an image taken in a North Korean study room, complete with portrait of the great leader watching over the students, with one central figure outlined from the rest by her red kimono and pose toward the camera, in stark contrast to her grey suited comrades. A symbol of individuality in the face of overwhelming conformity? That makes it sound a bit obvious, and it probably is but I liked it so there. It’s good to make use of the musem facilities in London – it is one of the benefits of living here so I really should make more of an effort.
After the art we hit the pub, and then went to see ‘The Fountain‘ which I shall post on soon, suffice to say it’s best to avoid. I’m really not having much luck at the cinema this year am I?
I’m not normally one for one link posts, but this world shattering development needs to be covered and disseminated as soon as humanly possible. This is the Kennedy assassination for our generation – we’re through the looking glass here people.
I caught this from one of my favourite discussion sites and some of the responses have literally left me crying with laughter:
‘CNN is now reporting a second towel theft – one is a shame, but two seems like it must be a coordinated attack to me.’
’Thank God we have men like Domingo Ramirez Jr. who are not afraid to speak the truth.’
‘Did anyone else notice the triangle in the bottom right corner of the map? All that’s missing from that triangle is an inscribed eye. It’s clear what hands are at play here.’
‘Sometimes, when I read threads that are based on news articles, I email the article’s author and send them a link. Because 1. I think they’d find our musings on it to be funny and 2. I would want someone to send me feedback like that. I sent Mr. Ramirez a link to this thread. Everyone wave at the camera.’
Hope this has made your day a little brighter. I’m off to the NFT tonight, more later….