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Moving pictures 2019, #16

More movies. I’m still a bit behind on these. I had thought moving to Sweden would give me more time to work on my blog, and my writing, but it hasn’t worked out that way. Yet. But perhaps as I get settled… I spent a while learning the layout of my local supermarket, only for them to completely re-arrange it. I wasn’t the only one thrown by the change – for a few days, pretty much all customers were quizzing the staff as to the new location of various items. Having said that, shopping is definitely a skill you need to relearn when moving to a new country. Supermarkets are different, food is different. It’s not a hard skill to learn, it must be said, but it’s not something you expect to have to learn. Unlike the language.

Anyway.another bunch of films; some recent, some not….

Siren, Jesse Peyronel (2013, USA). This is a small independent film made by a British director, starring US actress Vinessa Shaw in the title role and that British bloke from Eastenders, who had the shit kicked out of him by Captain Marvel in a deleted scene in, er, Captain Marvel which caused all the man-boys on social media to spontaneously burst into man-tears, in the other lead role. Shaw plays a woman who produces a pheromone so powerful she has to live in seclusion because men fall instantly in love with her (she appears as their fantasy mate to them), which obviously causes huge problems. Given what men are like. To women. Then along comes Robert Kazinsky, who appears to be unaffected by her chemical charms… because he has no sense of smell (knocked out of him by an Iraqi shell during the illegal US invasion and occupation of that country). Actual real love might blossom… There’s a none-too-subtle twist about three-quarters of the way in, but this wasn’t a bad little film at all. It handled its premise well, the two leads were watchable, and while the script wasn’t actively good it was better than that of many a tentpole blockbuster.

Iron Sky 2: The Coming Race, Timo Vuorensola (2019, Finland). If you haven’t seen Iron Sky, you won’t get much from the sequel. If you have seen Iron Sky, you’ll know whether or not you can be bothered to watch the sequel. For what it’s worth, I enjoyed Iron Sky. While I found its humour a little puerile, the production design was great and the premise an absolute winner. To be fair, having previously seen all the Star Wreck films, I had some idea what to expect comedy-wise, so it wasn’t a deal-breaker. Iron Sky 2: The Coming Race manages to turn Iron Sky up to eleven in pretty much all areas… although the humour still remains chiefly juvenile and some of the jokes overstay their welcome. A home-built Russian UFO arrives at the heavily-damaged Nazi base on the dark side of the Moon, and its pilot agrees, after some violent drama, to take some of the (“good”) Nazis to the South Pole to find the Holy Grail in Agartha, the land inside the hollow earth, to save the moonbase. Which is where some other Nazis fled after WWII. Including Hitler. And various other incarnations of evil. Like, er, Steve Jobs. It turns out reptilian aliens colonised the Earth hundreds of millennia before, uplifted humans, and now live in Agartha, occasionally taking human form, such as the leader of the Nazi moonbase. As in the first film, there are some excellent sfx and a few really good set-pieces. The script varies wildly but presents an interesting group of characters. I remember seeing the advance publicity for Iron Sky and being excited about it… only to be a little disappointed by the final product. There’s been a lot of advance material about Iron Sky 2: The Coming Race, but it was harder to know what to make of its use of its references – Bulwer-Lytton! vril! hollow earth! Agartha! Hitler! secret Nazi South Pole bases! I mean, even if Iron Sky 2: The Coming Race were just like Iron Sky, there’d be plenty in there to entertain for those familiar with the mythos. That Iron Sky 2: The Coming Race turns its plot into an action story sort of works in its favour, but the juvenile glee the film takes in its premise and mythos acts slightly against that. Worth seeing… but I suspect you’d have to be a fan to watch it more than once.

Vox Lux, Brady Corbet (2018, USA). For an industry which has been creating celebrities out of nobodies for over a century, Hollywood seems strangely unable to tell a story on that topic in any meaningful or plausible way. And when it comes to Vox Lux, which appears to be a personal project of the director, it’s hard to know what to make of it. Or indeed when he was trying to say. A teenage girl survives a school shooting (if the US won’t introduce gun control, as the UK and New Zealand did after gun massacres, at least they’ll inspire some books and films…), and with her older sister writes a song in response, which becomes an internet hit. This kickstarts the girl’s career. Jump forward twenty years or so and now she’s a successful pop star. And she’s done all the self-destructive pop star things. And is still doing some of them. She also has a teenage daughter, who watches this behaviour from the sidelines with no power to stop it. Yawn. Then a terrorist shooting is linked to the singer because the terrorists wore masks that featured on a promo video of her biggest hit. Bit fucking tenuous. But this is not a film out to make much sense. In fact, in places it seems Corbet is more about the visuals than the story-telling, despite the former being an aspect of the latter. Natalie Portman puts in a good turn in the lead role, but she’s a quality actress. If you like films that are more style than substance, that add nothing to the genre of rock-star-in-decline movies, then you might enjoy this. Otherwise: don’t bother.

X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes, Roger Corman (1963, USA). The title is pretty much the plot of this classic B-movies from Corman’s New World Pictures. There is a man. He invents a substance which allows eyes to see across a much wider spectrum. He experiments on himself. Guess what happens. As his ability to “see” increases, so his mental stability worsens. It doesn’t help that star Ray Milland was once an A-lister and must have slid pretty far to end up in a Corman movie. But even his past reputation can’t save this. It also doesn’t help that he’s wearing a pair of silly circle lenses that clearly are none too comfortable. It’s all very formulaic, with the title explaining the villain and giving a big nod to the story. Milland comes a cropper in the end, of course he does. That’s how these sort of horror films work. On the other hand, there are some nice psychedelic effects, and the scene where Milland is at a party and can see through everyone’s clothes is probably what the movie is chiefly famous for. X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes is, I guess, worth seeing at least once. But only after several beers.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse, Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey & Rodney Rothman (2018, USA). I’m not a fan of the MCU films, and I can pretty much take or leave 99% of animated movies. When I start seeing lots of praise from many different quarters for a film that is both of them… I’m going to be sceptical. But you never know, chances are I’d probably watch it at some point anyway, so why not sooner? And, well, it’s not really my bag, but once it had finished I was pretty much convinced it’s one of those animated movies that’s a complete game-changer. Like The Incredibles. It doesn’t just raise the bar, it shifts it to an entirely new level. The story was no great shakes, just fairly typical MCU bobbins, but the presentation was superb. Not just the animation, but the design, the use of the screen real estate, everything that made it an animated movie and not just a movie. The script was not terrible, perhaps even a cut above other MCU movies, but it’s not a film where the fact it’s a superhero film is its defining characteristic. So it’s a bit weird it’s won so many accolades, including an Oscar. I mean, an Oscar going to what actually might be an excellent film is something of a novelty. And yet, you can guess it’s not the story that led to those prize wins and nominations, it’s the way the film looks, the way it’s put together, and it’s a surprise to see that recognised so universally. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse, as I said, immediately struck me as a game-changer, and its impact in the cinema world seems to demonstrate that. Whether anything will actually change is another matter. I suspect it will. I also suspect any sequel will prove disappointing. That seems to be the way it works. But definitely see Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse. You will not be disappointed.

Badrinath ki Dulhania, Sashank Khaitan (2017, India). Pretty much every Bollywood movie goes something like this: boy meets girl, something happens, boy loses girl, something else happens, boy gets girl back. Happy end. It’s a very successful formula and it’s produced some very entertaining Bollywood films. Like this one. In Badrinath ki Dulhania, you have the wastrel son of a rich man, who doesn’t want an arranged marriage because he’s seen how unhappy one has made his elder brother. Wastrel son falls in love with a spirited and educated young woman and eventually manages to persuade her to marry him. But she jilts him at the altar. He tracks her down to Singapore, where she’s training to become cabin crew for an airline. After much arguing, and an overnight stay in jail, he mends his ways and the two are finally reconciled. Happy end. Much singing and dancing along the way, of course. The movie makes some important points about dowries and women’s roles and expectations, despite being pretty light-hearted Bollywood rom com entertainment (quite a few twenty-first century Bollywood films are good on gender politics commentary in present-day India, better than Hollywood, in fact). I picked this film at random from the large number of Bollywood films on Amazon Prime (including most of Guru Dutt’s films! Watch them!), and enjoyed it a great deal. A good one.

1001 Movies you Must See Before You Die count: 940

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Moving pictures, #15

For the forseeable future, this blog will likely contain more posts about films than books – if only because I watch more films than I read books (it being a time thing, and a bad-organisation-of-time thing – although I remain committed to books as my favourite transport vector for culture). Anyway, I’ve got behind on these Moving pictures posts so I need to catch up a bit. So there might be a few of these in quick succession, beginning with…

ragnatokGåten Ragnarok, Mikael Brænne Sandemose (2013, Norway). On Amazon Prime, this looked like some terrible Viking-themed action movie, so I’ve know idea why I bothered watching it (particularly given its English retitling… Ragnarok – The Viking Apocalypse). Happily, it proved to be anything but. Maybe it was just the fact it was Scandinavian. Anyway, an archaeologist in Norway believes a tribe of Vikings travelled to the far north of the country and the legend of Ragnarok was a consequence of their trip. But he has no real proof. But then an assistant, sent north to Finnmark, returns with a piece of stone on which some runes have been carved… and despite having no museum backing, the archaeologist sets off to find more evidence for his pet theory, taking his two kids along with him (he’s widowed, and his late wife did much of the work toward the theory). They find a remote lake, and centred in it a small island which contains Viking artefacts… because a bunch of them went there and were slaughtered by… a monster. This was actually pretty good – perhaps not up there with Troll Hunter, but nonetheless and interesting mix of Norse mythology and modern monster movie. Worth seeing.

masqueThe Masque Of The Red Death*, Roger Corman (1964, USA). I admit it, one or two of the films produced by Corman’s New World Pictures are among my favourites. This is not one of them, It is, in fact, precisely the sort of film you’d expect Corman and American International Pictures to churn out. Based on the Edgar Allen Poe story of the same name, it’s little more than a US version of a Hammer Horror film, right down to the kitschy lead, the over-colourful production design, and the terrible over-acting. And perhaps it’s weirdly parochial of me, but I’ve always preferred it when Brits do it. Vincent Price plays your typical evil lordling, who discovers evidence of the titular plague on his land, and so offers his castle as a sanctuary to neighbouring nobility, who duly turn up, behave like everyone’s favourite cliché of decadent aristocracy, before themselves succumbing to the “red death”. It tries for the colour of The Adventures Of Robin Hood, but falls well short; I suspect that’s the only area in which it tried for anything. The louring mediaeval feudalism was done better, and earlier, by Mario Bava in 1960’s Black Sunday, and the effete nobles partying away the end days has been done better in several Hammer films. I have no idea with this film is on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list, but if they had to absolutely pick one from American International Pictures’ catalogue, then why not Queen Of Blood from 1966, or, from Corman’s own New World Pictures, 1981’s Galaxy of Terror?

satyriconFellini Satyricon*, Federico Fellini (1969, Italy). I have a somewhat conflicted view of many of the great directors whose films I have watched – and there’s no denying Fellini is one of them – inasmuch as I love some of their films but can see little of note in their others. I do love Fellini’s but a lot of his others films have felt all a bit meh. And Fellini Satyricon seemed to be going the same way when I first started watching it – it felt like a weird cross between Derek Jarman’s Caravaggio and the sword-and-sandal epic Hercules and the Tyrants of Babylon (which are apparently also called “peplum fantasies”, as I learned from Aliette de Bodard; a phrase new to me). Anyway, so the film initially looked like Caravaggio… and then it put to sea in the most bizarre ships ever designed and I decided, for no good reason, that I actually really loved this film. And that, I suspect, is the mark of a movie that belongs on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list. The more I watched it, the more I wanted my own copy of Fellini Satyricon, preferably a nice high-rez Blu-ray version with lots of features. I still have no idea why I went from not liking it to thinking it was a work of genius, but the only way to discover that is to own and rewatch it. It was self-indulgent and over-the-top, but it was also, as it progressed, increasingly beautifully shot and weirdly fascinating.

sorrowThe Sorrow and the Pity*, Marcel Ophüls (1969, France). Some films, it’s easy to see why they made the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list, even if they don’t seem of sufficient quality, or historical importance, to be there. But The Sorrow and the Pity is historically important, and its presence on the list is pretty much incontestable… even if I found it somewhat dull and uninteresting. It covers the Occupation of France during WWII, first from the point of view of those who fought against the Nazis, and then from those who fought with the Nazis. So it essentially consists of series of talking heads. It was banned from TV broadcast in France, and wasn’t shown until 1981. I can understand how defeat and collaboration are seen as nationally shameful, but I’d have thought it more shameful for  politicians, and the press, to be spouting the same rhetoric as the Nazis, as they seem to be doing in the twenty-first century. And with films like this one around you’d think they’d know better. But, as they say, those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it – and those who do are doomed to suffer as the others repeat it.

chariotsChariots of Fire*, Hugh Hudson (1981, UK). Everyone knows the theme tune, right? By Vangelis? I mean, it doesn’t sound at all appropriate for the 1920s, which is when this film is set, but it’s pretty damn memorable. Unlike the actual movie. Which purports to tell the story of the rivalry between Bible-bashing Calivinist Eric Liddle and upper-crust Jew Harold Abrahams, both runners who competed in the 1924 Olympic Games. It takes a few liberties, apparently, in pursuit of drama, as the silver screen is wont to do – particularly in regard to Liddell’s refusal to run at the Olympics on a Sunday. In the film, he learns on his way to Paris that the race is scheduled for a Sunday, but in reality he knew months beforehand and the British Olympic Committee had made plain their unhappiness about it. Having said all that, my overriding memory of the film is of a bunch of over-entitled toffs at Oxford or Cambridge (they’re interchangeable, after all) – as if that were in any way representative of the UK at that time (but hey, our current lords and masters are working hard to return us to those days of an over-privileged elite living off the backs of a working class trapped below the poverty line in slums). A boring film, and if the makers of the 1001 Movies you Must See Before You Die list were determined to include some British movies, they could have picked far better than this.

babetteBabette’s Feast*, Gabriel Axel (1987, Denmark). Three pieces of fiction by Karen Blixen (AKA Isak Dinesen) have been made into films, which is not a bad record. Out Of Africa, of course, everyone knows. The Immortal Story by Orson Welles is perhaps less well-known (and Blixen’s novella is superior to Welles’s movie). But Babette’s Feast is reasonably well-known, as is the fact it’s based on something by Blixen. At least, I think it’s reasonably well-known. And while it’s not the best novella from the collection in which it appears – that would be, for me, ‘The Tempest’ – it’s a good story and worth filming. I suspect I may have in the past avoided the film under the mistaken impression it involves a feast much like that in The Cook, The Thief, His Wife And Her Lover. It doesn’t. Amusingly, the story is set in Norway but was filmed in Denmark, because the Norwegian village in the story didn’t look dour and miserable enough. An excellent film.

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die count: 744