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Moving pictures 2018, #38

Bit of a UK-fest this time around. Which is just how it sort of fell out. The one US film is a Roger Corman-produced rip-off of Alien. He made two – one I like very much, but this one was absolutely terrible. Oh well.

Wild Reeds*, André Téchiné (1994, France). One topic I’m pretty much cold to in both literature and film is “the sensitive passage into adulthood and the awakening of sexuality”, as Wikipedia describes this film. Basically, it translates as late teens or early twentysomethings acting like arseholes, and then stopping as it slowly occurs to them that they’ve been behaving like arseholes. And the “awakening of sexuality” bit often involves a great deal of sexism, as said teens suddenly discover that the people they’ve been treating as human beings are female and so society (ie, the patriarchy) tells them they shouldn’t actually be treated like human beings. Which is not say this film does either of these, because I don’t much recall what actually did happen as it was all rather dull. The action take places around the time of the end of the Algerian War, and one of the four youths the film focuses on was born in Algeria. Another is gay, but is treated badly by the others. I watched Wild Reeds because it’s on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list, but I can’t say anything in it especially grabbed me or persuaded me it belonged on the list. Meh.

Denial, Mick Jackson (2016, UK). I had a conversation with someone about David Irving at Fantastika in Stockholm last month, and then this film popped up on Amazon Prime… Not that I took it at face value. I read up on Irving on Wikipedia as I watched the film. Anyway, Irving is a piece of shit Hitler apologist who has had several of his books on the subject challenged – and in one case withdrawn after publication – who decided to sue a US academic, Deborah Lipstadt, whose area of study is the Holocaust, after she accused him of being a Holocaust denier. He sued her for libel in the UK, which has antiquated libel laws which were designed to protect the names of established shitbags rather than arrive at a truthful verdict. In order to win her case, Lipstadt had to prove that Irving had knowingly lied in presenting his thesis. Which her legal team did. So Irving lost. He probably still hasn’t paid off what he owes and the court case took place in 1996. For the record, the Holocaust happened, Irving is a Holocaust denier and his bending of history to serve a right-wing agenda makes him a piece of shit. The film presents the story relatively straightforward, although it does tend to minimise the timescale of events. I also suspect Timothy Spall plays Irving as more of a charmer than the real article, although he certainly manages to convey oleaginous arrogance. If the film has one flaw, it does feel a bit as though Lipstadt and her legal team are all paragons of humanity, and while their motives may have been pure in real life, the film does make it seem a little too good. But a good, entertaining film about an important event, and worth seeing.

The Go-Between, Joseph Losey (1971, UK). I have one of LP Hartley’s novels on the TBR – actually, it might be an omnibus of a trilogy of his. But his best-known work, The Go-Between, isn’t it, or one of them, er, which ever it is. The story of The Go-Between is set in 1900, although confusingly it’s mostly flashback from, I think, the novel’s date, around 1950, so every now and again cars appear on the screen, which seems odd in something that it mostly seems to predate DH Lawrence… And it’s DH Lawrence it mostly seems to want to be, with the nubile daughter of minor gentry, Julie Christie, engaging in no-commitment rumpy-pumpy with hunky farmer, Alan Bates, on the side. And it’s almost as if the two leads were cast because of their connection to Lawrence adaptations – Bates in Women in Love, a great novel and a great film, and Christie in, er, well, no Lawrence adaptations, although she was the female lead in Dr Zhivago. Anyway. The title refers to a young boy, a school friend of the family’s youngest, who has been invited to spend their summer in their stately home. He ends up carrying messages between Bates and Christie, because he has a schoolboy crush on Christie, not realising he is enabling their affair. And when he finds out, he reacts badly. The Go-Between is the third film Losey made with playwright Harold Pinter and, like the other two, class plays an important part, although it feels in the film like the shadow of something that occupies more of the narrative of the source novel (I’m guessing as I’ve not read it). Apart from the obvious class difference between Christie and Bates, and a series of events which position the title character as lower class than Christie’s family, there’s not actually all that much there as commentary on class. Losey and Pinter’s The Servant was much more effective. Which is not to say The Go-Between was a bad film. It’s very good, it just strike me a bit as Lawrence-lite and I have to wonder if Ken Russell might have made a better fist of it…

Tomb Raider, Roar Uthaug (2018, UK). I remember when the Tomb Raider game was released – a friend of mine at the time was a big fan of it. And it seemed unremarkable that a film adaptation be then made of the property. But twenty years later, and you have to wonder why someone felt a reboot was needed. In the first version of the franchise, Brit Lara Croft and her father were both played by Americans – father and daughter too, as it happens – and they made a pretty good fist of it. In this new version, they’re played by… a Swede and a Brit. Who are unrelated. Although, to be fair, Alicia Vikander, does a good job as Lara. Dominic West, who I always get confused with Dougray Scott, plays her father. The film opens with Lara getting a pasting in a boxing-ring. It then quickly establishes that she is highly-educated, has no money, and works as a bicycle courier… because her father disappeared seven years earlier and she refuses to admit he is dead and so cannot touch his fortune until she does so. He disappeared on a trip to a mysterious island in the sea of Japan where an ancient evil Japanese queen’s tomb allegedly can be found. And its fabulous treasure. Lara is eventually persuaded to sign the papers declaring her father dead, but before she does so the solicitor gives her an envelope only to be opened after his death. A cryptic phrase on a piece of paper sends her back to the family estate – papers unsigned, of course – where she finds her father’s secret laboratory. The second act is Lara following her father’s research to the island… which she finds far too easily. Only to be shipwrecked after a violent storm. And then she discovers there is a secret organisation dedicated to ripping off mysterious ancient artefacts with special powers to advance their agenda of world domination. Or something. Anyway, they take Lara prisoner, she escapes, they break into the tomb, she helps them through its various traps, they discover the secret of the ancient Japanese queen, but she manages  to stop the baddies from profiting from it. Oh, and she finds her father, and he’s still alive. Albeit not for long… I enjoyed this more than I expected, to be honest. Vikander is good in the title role, and the excessive CGI is only mildly annoying. The risible plot is redeemed by an opening that actually feels like it’s set in the real world, although the introduction of the vast Croft wealth knocks it off track. And the conspiracy aspect has its moments, although it does feel like a feeble copy of Assassin’s Creed. I’ve still no idea why someone felt a reboot was required – has the game been revamped or something? – and while the original movie at least felt like a part of the moment back then, this one now smells not so much like it missed the boat as it is in actual search of a boat in the first place. But I sort of enjoyed it.

Forbidden World, Allan Holzman (1982, USA). Roger Corman’s New World Pictures was known for a number of things, and one of them was ripping off successful genre properties with low-budget straight-to-video (as was) releases. Ridley Scott’s Alien inspired two such rip-offs – Galaxy of Terror, which is actually not bad; and this one, the considerably more risqué, and considerably inferior, Forbidden World. Which opens with a robot waking its captain as their spaceship is under attack by marauders, who have nothing to do with the plot but do allow Holzman to re-use some model shots from, I think, Battle Beyond the Stars. After seeing them off, the hero lands on the planet of Xarbia, which is the location of a secret biological laboratory base. Which has accidentally managed to create a monster. Which then grows and kills everyone off, one by one. And, er, that’s it. Well, that and the gratuitous nudity. Like when one of the base’s young female staff members decides that what she really needs, despite all the carnage, is a naked sauna… The monster, when it’s eventually revealed, is not at all convincing, looking like it belongs in a much worse film. I’m told the soundtrack is held in high regard, but then it’s the only thing in the film that is at all original. Galaxy of Terror was a rip-off of Alien, but it did something very science-fictional with its premise. Forbidden World doesn’t. There’s some scientific bollocks intended to justify its plot, but it’s substandard writing. New World Pictures produced the odd gem during its time, but this isn’t one of them.

Genius Party/Genius Party Beyond, various (2007/2008, Japan). This is a pair of anthology anime films by various hands, put together chiefly, I think, as a portfolio for a newly-launched animation studio in Japan. Obviously, it was recommended by David Tallerman. There are seven short anime films in Genius Party and five in Genius Party Beyond. None are especially typical of Japanese anime – one, on fact, reminded me of the work of Jodorowsky and Moebius more than anything else. A lot of it is just plain weird. There’s an excellent one on Genius Party Beyond with a Juno Reactor soundtrack, which is probably the best of the lot. The problem, however, is that both films feel like what they are: over-extended showreels. It’s good stuff – excellent animation and some really inventive design… but it’s the sort of thing that works better in 5-minute segments rather than 20-minute segments. Especially since the stories of many of the segments feel like they’re stretched well past their natural length. On the other hand, both films are a showcase of inventive animation and, stories aside, demonstrate that very well. I don’t think either are necessarily for fans of anime, more for people interested in animation and its various forms.

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die count: 923

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Moving pictures, #3

Well, my DVD-player decided to pack in. After seven and a half years of hard use. I guess I can’t complain too much. Fortunately, I also have a Blu-ray player, so there was no interruption of service. Having said that, I need to get a new Blu-ray player as the one I have is region-locked, so I can’t watch my Criterion Blu-ray of All That Heaven Allows. Bah. Stupid region-locking.

servantThe Servant*, Joseph Losey (1963, UK). James Fox is an upper crust bachelor, back in London after working abroad. He buys himself a townhouse, and advertises for a manservant. Dirk Bogarde is subsequently hired. Once the house has been decorated, the pair move in. Bogarde arranges for his sister, Sarah Miles, in Manchester to join him as a housekeeper, although the two seem suspiciously close for siblings. Fox’s girlfriend, Wendy Craig, doesn’t like Bogarde – she doesn’t think he’s appropriately servile. Miles and and Fox have sex, Fox comes increasingly under the sway of Bogarde… until their roles are pretty much reversed. Bogarde doesn’t quite convince as a Mancunian, but he plays a servant just on the edge of taking liberties perfectly. A proper creepy little film and worth seeing.

greatgatsbyThe Great Gatsby, Baz Luhrmann (2013, USA/Australia). F Scott Fitzgerald’s novel of the Roaring Twenties, when you think about it, should be pretty much ideal material for Luhrmann’s brand of spectacle. So it’s a bit of a shame that this film felt entirely pointless. Not the story – which everyone knows – but the film’s reason for existing. It didn’t help that I’ve always found both Maguire and DiCaprio a bit bland. And some of the scenery was pure CGI eye-candy, which made everything resemble a cartoon more than a classic of American literature. Nothing felt plausible, so what the story was actually about got lost in the fake world Luhrmann had created – and this is the film of a novel that comments on weighty topics like, to quote the Wikipedia page for the novel, “decadence, idealism, resistance to change, social upheaval, and success”. Disappointing.

madeinparisMade in Paris, Boris Sagal (1966, USA). A silly sixties rom com starring Ann-Margret and the late Louise Jourdan. Ann-Margret plays a junior fashion buyer for a New York department store, sent for the first time to Paris to sign up fashion designer Jourdan’s latest collection. She discovers that the previous buyer and Jourdan had something of an “arrangement”. Since she has a clean-cut boyfriend back home, and she’s a nice girl, Ann-Margret’s certainly not going to continue it. So a telegram gets sent back home saying she’s falling down on the job. Boyfriend then turns up and jumps to conclusion. Jourdan oozes Gallic charm throughout, Ann-Margret makes a good ingenue… but it’s all just melodramatic froth and chock-full of French stereotypes.

dayofwrathDay Of Wrath, Carl Theodor Dreyer (1943, Denmark). Dreyer’s Gertrud is a film that almost makes my top ten, so I’ve been picking up more of his films to watch. Day Of Wrath was Dreyer’s first film after more than a decade. It was also the first feature film he made in his native Denmark, and only his second with sound. It’s set in a village in 1623. A young woman is married to a pastor a good deal older than herself. When a local old woman is accused of witchcraft, the young woman hides her in the pastor’s house. The pastor’s son returns home from abroad shortly afterwards, and he and his father’s wife begin seeing each other. The wife, whose mother had been accused of witchcraft, but spared because the pastor wanted to marry the daughter, curses her husband. He dies. She’s accused of witchcraft. This is grim stuff, shot in stark black and white, with lots of close-ups of grim-looking faces. Sort of like Bergman, but without the cheerful optimism. I especially like how Dreyer stages his films, so that the sparse sets throw the focus on what’s going on beneath the words. He’s rapidly becoming one of my favourite directors.

starshiprisingStarship Rising, Neil Johnson (2014, USA). I bunged this on an order because the DVD had a pretty cover and it was cheap. What I didn’t know is that Johnson is a genre feature film cottage industry all his own, and churns out low budget movies like a one-man Global Asylum. He is apparently best known for directing over 500 music videos. Huh. While the CGI in Starship Rising is actually pretty respectable, the sets just about visible underneath look cheap (and badly-lit, to hide how really cheap they are). And the acting is poor, too. So was the script. There was something about a huge warship, which is ordered to destroy Earth, but one of the officers mutinies and, er, lots of other things happened. I will admit I wasn’t concentrating as much as I should have been – maybe there was something interesting happening on Twitter, there was certainly nothing interesting in the movie. One to avoid. There is apparently a sequel due, shot back-to-back with this one, but not yet released.

Devils-DVDThe Devils*, Ken Russell (1971, UK). I’ve actually read Russell’s science fiction novel, Mike And Gaby’s Space Gospel. It was fucking awful. And only the other night, I was flicking through channels and stumbled across The Lair of the White Worm, and after watching Amanda Donohe chew everything in sight, including the scenery and some poor lad’s genitals, while bumbling posh Englishman Hugh Grant played a bumbling posh Englishman, I couldn’t help noting how much of a perv Ken Russell had been (not an original observation, by any means). Which leads me to The Devils, which is the only one of Russell’s 18 feature films (and much more television work) to make it onto the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list. The Devils was very controversial when it was released, probably because it has lots of naked and semi-naked nuns having sex in it. To be honest, it was all a bit much and overwhelmed the story a bit. The sets, however, all buttresses and high walls of white tile, looked pretty cool, and Oliver Reed was on top form. Despite its relentlessness and all those scenes of writhing naked flesh, I thought The Devils pretty good. Might watch some more Russell.

bigredoneThe Big Red One – The Reconstruction*, Samuel Fuller (1980, USA). I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a fan of war movies (and I have far less time for Vietnam War films than I do WWII ones), but there are a handful which are quite good. This, I discovered as I watched it, is one of them. Okay, so Israel makes a poor stand-in for, well, North Africa and most of Europe, and this was clearly a film done on the cheap as even the tight-focus shots couldn’t disguise the paucity of cast members. Not to mention that exactly the same type of tank – Israeli M51 HV tanks, apparently – stood in for all the tanks used during WWII. The film follows a platoon of soldiers from the US Army’s 1st Infantry Division (their badge is a, er, big red 1), led by taciturn sergeant Lee Marvin, as they fight in North Africa, Sicily, Normandy and Germany. The sergeant and four others survive each action, so much so other soldiers assigned to the platoon might as well have worn red shirts. A German Feldwebel pops up at intervals, usually trying to kill Marvin, as a sort of thematic reflection of Marvin’s character. The Big Red One is not a patch on The Thin Red Line, but I did think it better than those huge ensemble war movies they used churn out by the dozen in the 1960s and 1970s, like The Longest Day.

effiebriestEffi Briest, Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1974, Germany). Another film from the Fassbinder collection. The title character is a callow young woman who marries well, to a baron twice her age, but then has an affair with a male friend. Later, the family move to Berlin as the baron has got himself a position in government, but he finds the letters between Effi and her lover – this is many years after the affair finished – and so divorces her. Her parents won’t take her back because her reputation is in tatters. The baron meanwhile challenges the lover and kills him in a duel. Effi succumbs to illness, and her parents let her come home. She dies. There’s much more to it than that, of course, and in many respects the story bears similarities to Gertrud. It was adapted from a 1894 novel, of the same title, about which Thomas Mann apparently said that if a person’s library were reduced to six novels, Effi Briest should be one of them. This film also boasts one of the longest titles in cinema, although it wasn’t used by distributors; it is: Fontane Effi Briest oder Viele, die eine Ahnung haben von ihren Möglichkeiten und Bedürfnissen und dennoch das herrschende System in ihrem Kopf akzeptieren durch ihre Taten und es somit festigen und durchaus bestätigen.

throneofbloodThrone Of Blood*, Akira Kurosawa (1957, Japan). I will admit that Japanese cinema does not appeal to me as much as the cinema of some other countries, and while I’ve watched films by Kurosawa, Ozu and Mizoguchi, I’ve never felt the urge to watch everything in their oeuvres. But it’s no good watching the same sort of stuff all the time, so I occasionally bung a piece of classic Japanese cinema on my rental list… Throne Of Blood is, famously, Kurosawa’s take on Macbeth, and I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected to. That the final scene with the archers, as depicted on the cover of the BFI DVD, really is quite astonishing. The scenes set in the forest looked a bit stagey, but the rest of it – filmed high up on Mount Fuji – looked really effective. I think this is the Kurosawa I’ve enjoyed and appreciated the most of the ones I’ve seen, although – according to my records – the last one I saw before this was Ran in May 2009. I really should watch more of his films.

1001 Films You Must See Before You Die count: 558 (they’re the ones with the asterisked titles)