Sunday, 27 February 2011

Sense and Censorbility

Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide - incorporating
Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship and Videotape
2010 UK Directed by Jake West Nucleus Films Region 0

Warning: If you find any of my views about the ridiculous practices of organised censorship and bully boy harassment to get opinionated bills passed as law through government a bit too much like a common sense reaction to the way we live our lives... rather than a silly knee jerk reaction often used to kick start and push individual agendas through under the name of large corporations or governments, then keep telling yourself... it’s only a blog post... only a blog post... only a blog post... only a blog post...

Ok... I just came off watching a limited edition three disc set of a brilliant documentary by Jake West on the thoroughly despicable Video Nasties phenomenon which hit Great Britain in the early eighties. Now I’ve always had a soft spot for Jake West, ever since I saw his brilliant, over the top vampire movie Razor Blade Smile with Eileen Daly cast in the lead role of Lilith Silver (more Lilith Silver movies please... or maybe some comics?) but if I were to tell the truth, it isn’t Mr. West’s name on the credits as director of this that made me want to grab this one while it was still on the shelves... and thanks to my mate Big Jake (not the same Jake) for getting me this little gem for Christmas... the real reason I wanted this was very simple - this DVD has trailers for all 72 movies which made the Director of Public Prosecutions Video Nasties list on it and, since I knew next to nothing about the phenomenon which was playing out when I was at school in my mid teens (when kids in the playground where either swapping these very same films or some kind of bestiality porn on a daily basis) I thought I’d better educate myself on this little and, as it turns out quite shameful, period of uniquely British movie history.

As I said, I was unaware of most of the films on these lists at the time (I was more of a Star Wars, Star Trek and Doctor Who person when I was going to school) but as I watched the documentary I realised that I have a few of these titles in uncut form on my own shelves and a couple of them are films I admire quite a bit (Dario Argento’s two minor masterpieces Tenebrae and Inferno, for example). As one of the people interviewed for the extras on these discs said... a film like Luigi Cozzi’s Contamination, which made the list, is now available totally uncut in the UK and on the shelves of your local HMV as a BBFC rated 15 certificate film... and it’s really quite laughable, when you go through the list, that many of these films were ever picked up at all.

The fact is though... they were and people in video stores renting this product, even in cut form and even though some of them were already passed as X-rated theatrical cuts by the BBFC, were being fined, prosecuted and in some cases thrown in prison for renting out what were probably quite lucrative titles (and therefore just plain good business sense to stock). Peoples lives were being changed in terrible and negatively impacting ways just because, it seems from the documentary... one or two people took offence and had an agenda.

The documentary itself is brilliant and, although it’s mostly a bunch of talking heads with minor luminaries and frightphiles such as Alan Jones (Argento’s biographer and general Italian exploitation expert) and Kim Newman (film critic and novelist whose work includes the awesome Anno Dracula series), Jake West uses a necessarily limited but effective tool kit of visual tricks to hold your attention on the subject matter... such as cutting to a closer shot of someone in between movie clips to bring your attention in... or degrading the quality of his shots as the quality of the original first, second and third generation video cassettes is referenced in the main text... stuff like that, but very effective and you will find yourself never getting bored in this director’s skilled hands.

Not that there’s really anything to get bored about on this one... the absolute injustice of these unfair and alarming prosecutions represent my pet soapbox, “crimes against filmanity”, in a big way. The person responsible for running the bill must have been told that this documentary was in some way going to gloss over the actual facts of the matter and somehow come out on the side of the government on this one because, frankly, he’s looking pleased as punch and incriminating himself with every word he says, it seems here. A real schoolboy, “oh it was a bit of a larf” kind of mentality if you ask me. Really scary!

The real eye opener for me, though, was just how underhanded and blatantly criminal the people in question were in order to get their own agenda passed through as law as the infamous Video Recordings Act of 1984. The minister (or whatever he was) who organised the research team at Cambridge in order to prove the point that the videos which they (seemingly randomly it seems on the strength of this documentary and the DVD extras) picked out were actually harmful to people and being seen by very young children acted, it would seem, in the most despicable way possible. When the research was turning out to not only not hold water with what was wanted but, indeed, even seemed to point in the opposite direction than was required, he broke in to the Cambridge offices and stole the research, then fired all the researchers and then constructed his own “massaged” figures from the statistic available which basically lied about the whole thing and helped get the bill passed. These were not nice people, it would seem... well that’s “governments” for you I guess?

All this along with some, mostly, sound opinions from the talking heads about the fakeness of the gore effects, which were the most pounced on element by the police (who really had no clear idea of what they were necessarily looking for at the time... well, how could they?), gives a really clear condemnation on the people who conducted these VHS and BETAMAX witch hunts throughout these shores and makes you realise how unjust the whole thing was. I repeat... peoples lives were being changed by this! This is not how human beings are supposed to treat their fellow man!

One thing you must do if you watch this, sadly now out of print already, limited edition is make sure that when you look at the 72 trailers on discs 2 and 3, you watch these with the individual introductions for each film on (even though the whole package runs for over 13 hours). Various experts like the aforementioned and a couple of British genre directors like Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, The Descent) and Christopher Smith (Triangle, Black Death) give some absolutely brilliant insight into the films in question and in the cases of some people (and from some of the clips shown) you can actually get a window into how “the nasties” informed and influenced their own work. The only real weakness to these intros is that half of the trailer in question tends to get played out as mini visual bites to illustrate the interviewee’s point... and then you see the trailer... again. Still, this is a minor quibble and in no way detracts from the quality of the product in this case.

Another brilliant thing about this particular documentary and DVD is that it also features genre actress and presenter Emily Booth who is always interesting to watch and listen to (does she write her own material for this stuff I wonder) and if you let the disc menus play out you’ll see her unleash total carnage on a whole bunch of video cassettes with various power tools and implements of destruction... if that’s your idea of a good time (and I have to say that since she’s such a good looking and genuinely witty person to watch and listen to... it probably is my idea of a good time actually).

You know I could write a very long and very relevant article about just why anything other than self-censorship for adults is an absolute waste of time and sometimes causes more problems than it pretends to cure... but this is already a long enough article without me going into one about it here. But be warned... that article will be coming.

So why am I standing on my soapbox now about something which has mostly (some of these films are still banned uncut over here guys and gals) become a scandalous footnote in the history of British film and government? Well, as a trusted and cherished lady friend of mine said to me very recently, this is the kind of thing that governments are getting away with all the time... and you know what, she’s 100% right. There are some laws which were passed less than two years ago, for example, which are also going to ruin a lot of peoples lives just for a personal preference and the laws in question appear to be even more totally outrageous than the Video Nasties phenomenon documented on this DVD. I won’t say which laws are problematic (I’m sure there are many) because I don’t want to make myself a target but I would advise that if any readers here with any kind of interest in how people’s freedom of expression and worse are being taken away on a daily basis in all different countries around the globe... then you could do a lot worse than to make one of your “virtual” stops in your world wide webbery on a daily basis.

You Have Been Reading... NUTS4R2: Sense and Censorbility.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Surry With The Hinge on Top

2009 USA
Directed by Jonathan Mostow
Touchstone Region 2

Warning: There is a fairly big spoiler here but I think it’s necessary to spill it to make my point... sorry.

It seems to me that the Bruce Willis starrer Surrogates was a very much overlooked film on its release in 2009. I remember going to see it at the cinema and liking it a fair bit and remembering that it really didn’t stay at the local cinema very long. I don’t know how well it did at the box office but my guess is that it was unfortunately, in the case of this movie, a flop. What I do know for sure, however, is that it’s also a smart, if simplistic, little science-fiction thriller with some okay action sequences and a warm little heart beating away in the background.

The plot of Surrogates is pretty much lifted from old fifties and sixties sci-fi short stories and is very much in the vein of Philip K. Dick... who has probably written a few variations of this basic story in his time and I’m guessing that it was the strength of the basic Phildickianesque concept of this movie that kept the audience away from this one when, instead they should have been flocking to see it. The plundering of old fifties pulp sci-fi concepts seems to be a very well-worn habit with Hollywood at the moment (Avatar or Inception anyone?) but the difference between this film and some of those other less successful movies (though they were huge in box office takings) is that this film never really treats its central themes with anything other than respect and attention to detail which makes some of the other films crowding our grubby multiplexes at the moment look amateurish in comparison.

The film takes 5 or 10 minutes to give the viewer the history of the world in which this particular story plays out... a world where humans now stay at home hooked up to a machine and let robot “surrogates” or “surrys” (in another nod to Phildickian intercultural slang) do everything else for them... they are more powerful (superhuman in some senses) and younger versions of their real life alter-egos and so most people spend the majority of the day inside their surry via a hook up to a machine receiver at home, while it goes about their daily business and does their 9 to 5 job. A world in which violent crime is practically at zero.

When a surry is “fried” by a human member of one of the "cells" of anti-surrogacy groups left on the planet with a weapon that also kills the human receiver/transmitter for the surry... Bruce Willis and Rhada Mitchell (Lucy from Australian Soap Neighbours) launch an investigation which involves more brutal surry/human murders and leads right back to a plot (the films big weakness in my opinion) to overturn the popular phenomenon of surrys which have pretty much been taken up by the large majority of the planet. Along the way their are all the things you expect to go through with this kind of plot... a major character’s surry getting horrendously killed and him having to deal with trying to do his job without his robot self to make things bearable for him, a surry taken over by “one of the bad guys” and used to infiltrate the very group of FBI detectives trying to solve the crimes and the troubled wife who doesn’t want to leave her surry since the car crash which crippled her and killed her son.

Yeah, okay... so it’s all predictable stuff but, surprisingly enough, the film manages to handle it all with a certain gravitas and respectability and there are some really nice touches and attention to detail which aren’t necessarily there to move the story along in that, oh so Hollywood, cause and effect kind of script structure and which are little bursts of inventiveness in and of themselves... like Bruce Willis trying to avoid the heavy, painful accidental blows of walking through busy streets populated solely by surrogates about their owners daily business. Or the fact that in a world where violent crime is gone... their are still wars, fought with surrys. It’s all good stuff.

Also, there’s a bit of an edge to this picture which isn’t always to be found in less daring popcorn fodder. Regular, sympathetic and, yes, sometimes female characters do get killed off without any notice... these deaths are handled quickly and fairly matter-of-factly and there is no crying over spilt blood after. This is not a film where every death is woefully mourned and used as a motivating force for other characters... and this makes the deaths hit home harder for the viewer who is forced to accept them quickly and move on... and the director can be applauded for that. There are also betrayals by friends who are more involved than they let on and this, too, is handled without any shilly-shallying or dwelling on the morbid circumstances that lead the characters to their actions... like the best hard-boiled thrillers (of which this has so obviously used as its template) this one sketches characters and their betrayals quickly... and then moves on.

The final solution of this movie ups the stakes somewhat though... and I so wish it didn’t. In solving the crime and stopping the deaths of millions of innocent people, Willis’ character takes the decision to leave part of the villain’s end game in place which ensures that by the end of the movie... no surrogate in the world is left standing and humanity will have to come out of its self-made shells and start living as itself again... a moral stance that the majority of the best hard-boiled thrillers would allude to but not set in stone as the final denouement of their story. This movie takes that leap because... well I guess the studio felt it needed that kind of grandeur to help it appeal to the kids is my guess. I would personally have liked it if they’d toned it down a bit, kept it fairly small scale and left the world in general in the same sorry state it’s gotten itself into... but no such luck and that’s a shame.

Still, though, a brilliant little gem of a movie if you’re into old style soft sci-fi concepts mixed with plain, old fashioned police procedural narratives. Definitely one to check out if you're of the mood.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Truffaut The Matter

The Bride Wore Black
1968 France
Directed by
François Truffaut
BFI Screen 2 screening on 5th February 2011

Warning: There is a slight spoiler for the final scene of this movie... although if you see this film you will see it coming a mile off anyway.

I think there are a fair few problems... or at least an unusual amount of disbelief to be jarringly suspended... when it come’s to Truffaut’s 1968 “thriller” The Bride Wore Black. First though, I have to own up myself about two things which make this review a little more suspect than a bunch of my usual ones. For starters, I haven’t read Cornell Woolrich’s original, hard boiled noir novel on which this was based (although I believe I’ve read some short stories by him in the past).

Secondly, and possibly more importantly in this case, I was in such an extreme state of both depression and exhaustion by the time I arrived at the cinema to see this movie, that I did catch myself drifting off on occasion... make of that what you will.

I’ve never been the worlds greatest fan of Truffuat, I have to say. Sure, I like his movies well enough but when it gets to my appreciation of the French nouvelle vague in general, I have to say that although I like a lot of what’s on offer... I probably gravitate towards Godard more than his peers when it comes right down to it. I like seeing the technique and style as being held up as an equal or more important process of the engagement with the viewer as opposed to passive storytelling. I haven’t seen that many Truffaut movies but I think the majority of the ones I’ve seen have been based on books so he’s obviously not a director who was going to shy away from “getting his hands dirty” with an adaptation should that be necessary.

The Bride Wore Black is only his second movie shot in colour (his first being the astonishing Fahrenheit 451 which he made directly before this one) and also his second and final collaboration with master composer Bernard Herrmann (again, the first being Fahrenheit 451) and it was to hear this second Truffaut/Herrmann collaboration that was, I have to say, the main factor in me deciding to trek up to the NFT to see this one screened.

This movie is a revenge thriller but it’s status is perhaps elevated by Truffaut's flare for haunting imagery and evocation of the sense of loss found in lead actress Jeanne Moreau’s "very much in type” take on her role which is both nonchalant and deadpan... the way she is in pretty much every film I’ve seen her in, it has to be said. I’m not denying that her acting ability, or at the very least the strength of her personality, is a very powerful asset to whatever movie she is in, and her typical icy inscrutability is perfect here for the bride who’s lover lies dead in her arms from a gunshot wound as they are posing outside a church on her wedding day for photos.

This sequence is repeated from different angles at regular moments during the film as both more clarification as to the precise nature of the “assassination” and an indication of the sense of all-consuming grief it brings to Moreau’s bride is expounded upon and, if the film can be said to have any nods to the artificial made flesh kind of sensibilities of the New Wave, then it is the use of repeat motifs such as this and the constant referencing of Mendelson’s Wedding March from A Midsummer Night’s Dream on Herrmann's, perhaps overly lush score, that may give voice to the history of the particular auteur at the helm of this movie.

I said there were some problems (for me) with suspension of disbelief on this film and the main one for me is the degree of good fortune and coincidence that plays out to enable our embittered heroine to easily kill her list of five men who she sees as guilty of her husbands murder (this film is obviously an influential one and as the bride sits on a plane and crosses off another name from her handwritten death list of five people, one can’t help but think of the debt owed to this movie from another “The Bride” who does exactly the same thing in Tarantino’s Kill Bill). People are absent when needed to be absent or present when required and this even goes so far that when the police finally catch up with her and put her in jail, it is precisely where she needs to be to ensure she is able to kill the last person left alive on her list.

Another big problem for me was Bernard Herrmann’s excellent score which is really great but way too overpowering for the images they are supposed to be supporting. I remember a story told by Elmer Bernstein about how he’d been discussing Richard Rodney Bennett’s whimsical score for Murder on the Orient Express with its tongue-in-cheek waltz and how he’d really liked it but Benny (Bernard Herrmann) had complained, saying that it should have been scored for what it was - a train of death! This film, for me, is a good example of Herrmann’s score being way too powerful and expressive for the images to really be able to breathe on their own merit. And I say that painfully... Herrmann is my favourite composer.

All in all though it has to be said that The Bride Wore Black is a charming little movie worth some of your time and that, if it does lack a certain something of the Hitchcock films it was trying to emulate and assimilate (Truffaut’s famous series of interviews with Hitchcock were apparently completed just before this) it certainly has a good go at it and I’ll certainly be taking another look at it when my head is in a better position to take on all the nuances that this movie no doubt has hidden within the carefully built layers of its execution.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Haddock Inducing

Tintin and the Blue Oranges
1964 France/Spain
Directed by
Philippe Condroyer
BFI Region 2

You know, I really liked the first Tintin movie, Tintin and the Golden Fleece (read my review here), but I’d seen it twice before when the BBC showed it a couple of times in the 70s (I think one time they showed it, it was unscheduled) and so I’d been really looking forward to the sequel when the BFI released it towards the end of last year because I was pretty sure (and I was right I can now confirm) that this one had never before been shown on British television.

What a shame then, that this second outing of the hastily aborted live action Tintin movies is such a disaster when compared to the first. It really doesn’t help the integrity of the continuity with the first film a lot to find that all of the regular characters from the original comic albums who made it into the first movie are, save for Tintin himself and the rarely seen Nestor (Captain Haddock’s butler), played by different actors. Which is a shame because, while Jean-Pierre Talbot’s take on Tintin is still absolutely pitch perfect... he doesn’t really seem to have much to do in this one. Meanwhile, the new actors very much overplay their roles during the course of the movie... especially Jean Boise’s stagey portrayal of Captain Haddock! A different director probably doesn’t help matters either, after the first movie was such a success, both creatively and financially I am informed.

While a lot of the fun in the last movie was in trying to figure out where the overactive dog playing Snowy was on any one occasion, the seven dogs they have playing Snowy this time around are all perfectly well behaved and ready to be their on cue when they are needed. Which makes for a rather dull session of Snowy-watching but, frankly, is replaced with the less than entertaining past-time of Haddock watching!

Boise’s portrayal of Haddock is monstrously energetic in this one. When he talks his facial features and his limbs are moving a mile a minute and when he’s travelling somewhere he is still indulging in showy, theatrical displays which, frankly, make him seem like a man completely out of control on ecstasy pills (or whatever they’re called these days). And when he’s standing still... well he isn’t standing still, he’s all over the place! What is going on? George Wilson really inhabited this role in the first movie and while no one could accuse the new guy of being unenthusiastic, it’s a great shame that Wilson didn’t return to the part that he really made his own in just the space of that one film playing a much more sedate and relaxed version of the good Captain.

The plot of Professor Calculus being kidnapped by a group of criminals because of his scientific knowledge of another kidnapped scientists work about a new breed of fluorescent Blue Oranges that can save the world is really handled quite badly and is not a great framework to hang various incidental scenes on. And while the liveliness of the action scenes cannot be denied... well, they really only look lively because of the aforementioned Captain Haddock skidding around corners and randomly falling over at annoyingly frequent intervals...

The colours in this one are really great but even that cannot help to offset the deadly malaise of boredom that sets into this movie very quickly. And even Antoine Duhamel's music in this one, although jaunty and upbeat (it has to be to keep up with “the Haddock”) has not a patch of the simplicity and appropriateness of the score by André Popp in the previous movie.

All in all then, a less than joyous experience and a bit of a let down after the first live action movie. Let’s hope that Spielberg can do us one better later on in the year.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

5.29 Days Later...

127 Hours 2011 UK/USA
Directed by Danny Boyle
Playing at UK cinemas now.

Spoiler Warning: Um... Hang on a minute... isn’t that a bit like having a spoiler warning on Titanic? You already know the bloody ship’s going to sink on that one (so I never bothered watching it) and I suspect you probably already know the true life story behind this movie too... unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last year or so... or, you know, trapped under it.

There’s a bit in the new movie by Danny Boyle, the famously successful British director of such respected movies as the zombie-tribute flick 28 Days Later, where he uses piercing sound to stand in as a direct link for the intensity of pain being felt as our intrepid real life hero Aron Ralston (played here unbearably but charmingly upbeat by actor James Franco) cuts through a big red tendon in his arm, which he’s already had to break the bone on so he can amputate said limb, with a lot more pain and anguish than in any of those old movies where make-do-and-mend bomb defusers had to make a choice as to whether they should cut the red wire or not.

This goes right back to silent movies when such metaphors were often thrown in for sound but expressed in visual metaphors to push their point home and while Franco was going through paroxyms of painful expressions (and doing it pretty well actually... he’s becoming a fine actor which is a big surprise for me) I couldn’t help but think of both the genius of German Expressionism/ Hollywood Noir director Fritz Lang and those two simmering surrealists Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel. Because they represent two obvious examples of directors using visual metaphor to push a point and the two specific examples I remembered while watching the action on screen were these two...

In Metropolis, Lang uses shafts of light coming from big metal sirens to suggest the wailing of factory worker shift changes in a most effective manner (if memory is serving me right). Similarly in Bunuel and Dali’s Un Chien Andalou, the buzzer of a front door being sounded is vibrantly shown by the juxtaposition of a pair of hands shaking up a cocktail as a stand in for... well noise. These points are used to demonstrate how the director of, so called, silent movies would use one tool in his visual armour to conjure up the idea of something that was just plain unavailable to him within budgetary and historically technical restrictions.

The other thing this made me think of was Darren Aranofsky, who did exactly the same thing that Boyle has done here in his brilliant debut feature Pi. In one of the more abstract scenes in that little masterpiece of a movie, the main protagonist finds a brain wrapped in paper on a subway station. Everytime he pokes at the brain with a pencil a shrill sound like a drill (presumably anticipating the end of the movie... but I shan’t give that away if you’ve not seen this particular slice of celluloid wonderful) pierces the soundtrack and he cringes in pain which is relieved only when he stops poking said internal organ.

This is exactly what Boyle has done with the sound to pain metaphor in 127 Hours... just as a silent director had no real sound to work with, Boyle and Aranofsky similarly use metaphor to express pain, which is unavailable to them as a real phenomenon of the movies they are making (so far... anyone want to predict when we will having the “painies” coming along in the same way we had the “talkies”). Regular readers of my column may well remember my disappointment, just a few weeks ago, with Aranofsky’s new movie Black Swan which I found dull, un-edgy and frankly unable to make me feel anything on an emotional level. But I got a little hit of the early genius brand of Aranofsky in Boyle’s latest which, despite the odds, manages to take a simple tale of a man getting stuck between a rock and a hard place... um... a bigger rock... and cutting his arm off with an inadequate instrument, seem a lot less duller than it sounds through the use of dynamic and possibly overwrought but certainly spectacular editing techniques and visual ideas which serve to give what you would expect to be a lesson in long, drawn out cinematography a large, adrenalin fuelled shot in the arm... if, indeed, you have at least one arm left to receive said adrenalin shot.

The real guy who did this extraordinary thing is never really treated with anything other than respect by the film-makers and you certainly get the impression that Ralston is definitely the kind of guy that you would want to hang around with in your local pub. This is true even during the sequence where Ralston is remonstrating with himself and taking the piss out of himself (in one of his more sober moments free from the sequences of hard-Boyled delirium that help to give this movie a break-neck pace)... yes, you know he’s been really stupid to get himself in such a jam where nobody else has any idea of where he is and with no sense of rescue... but that does nothing to diminish the courageous and more likable qualities of the character as he appears on screen and one can hope that the off-screen Ralston is as inspiring as his on-screen counterpart which is given a huge (huge!) lift by Franco’s performance.

So there you go... the pacing is jarring and fragmentary... cutting between long establishing-style shots looking at the natural beauty of the rocky terrain and fast-paced, fast-edited bouts of delirium fuelled dreams of events past and future from Ralstons life. I wouldn’t watch this one again (no DVD sale for me) but it is a really fine movie, highlighting that Boyle, unlike some other directors, is still very much at the top of his game and a cinematic artist worthy of your time and attention. Definitely one to watch... if only once.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Hornet’s Nest

The Green Hornet 3D 2011 USA
Directed by
Michel Gondry
Playing at
UK cinemas now.

This will probably end up being a short-but-bitter-sweet review of the new Green Hornet movie purely because I’m just really not sure if I liked it.

I remember when I was a kid and sitting in a room somewhere playing with my... um... it would be my mum’s mum’s sister’s son... and he had a Corgi replica of The Green Hornet’s car, The Black Beauty, with a little Green Hornet figure poking out one of the windows to fire his gun. I was too young to have seen the TV series on its first time around the block and so don’t have too many memories of the sixties show (I’ve not seen it in the years since) but I remember the character of The Green Hornet sticking in my mind over the years.

I’ve never heard the original Green Hornet radio show nor have I read any of the multitude of Green Hornet comics which have put in appearances over the years since the 40s. I did see, a few years ago now, the first of the two 1940 Green Hornet serials which starred Charlie Chan’s Number One Son Keye Luke in the role of Kato, the Hornet’s chauffer... and so it’s this incarnation of the characters that I remember more than the old TV show which had Bruce Lee playing Kato.

Which is really too bad for me because I noticed almost no references to the 30s incarnation of the character in the new movie but there were a couple of references to Bruce Lee in the new film... one as sketches of Bruce Lee in Kato’s sketchbook and another, more oblique reference as Kato effortlessly pulls off Lee’s famously developed “one inch punch” as he demonstrates his qualifications to work for the bad guy and pull of “a hit” in the new movie. That was among the good things about this new version.

Seth Rogen stars at the title character and he’s re-written the role as a comedy vehicle... and that’s what we have delivered to our screen. A fast paced, comedy action vehicle with a few laughs and some not bad 3D effects. The real problem I have with it, however... is that it’s a fast paced comedy action vehicle with a few laughs and some not bad 3D effects! Wow! Deja vu in that last sentence or what?

Or let me make my possibly overwrought last paragraph a tad clearer for the hard of thinking here (I’m looking at you, any reckless studio bosses who may stumble on this blogspot accidentally and deign to read it)...

When the f*ck did a respectable, crime fighter posing as a criminal become fodder for cheap comedy antics by the latest “in” comic of the time. It’s The Green Hornet you asses! Not The Green Funny Fat Man WIth A Lot Of Energy Bumbling Up The Screen!

Ok... apologies to Seth Rogen for that last crack. This is the first movie I’ve seen with him in it and he actually has a really great and likeable personality... I just think it’s wrong for The Hornet. And there’s some seriously, nicely inventive stuff in this movie including some neat little side-swipes at cinematic grammar... like when the split screens keep breaking off into little other split screens add nauseam until you end up trying to keep up with about twenty of the little buggers all at the same time. Not particularly funny but a nice comment on the nature of that particular movie convention.

But there’s also a lot wrong with it. Cristoph Waltz, hot off the screen from his absolutely brilliant turn as the villain in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds is the main villain in this one... and his opening scene with James Franco (uncredited) is absolutely gobsmacking brilliant... mainly because it’s written really well for Waltz and, as always, Waltz does something unbelievably good with it. But for a villain... he’s really not in it that much and, in my humble opinion, when he is... the scripted dialogue just isn’t up to it. Waltz is trying to weave gold out of raw material that is far from sparkly and it sometimes falls a little flat. He’s very good at it, however, and one of the things I will say about this movie... starting right at Seth Rogen’s door, is that it’s incredibly well acted by all and sundry. Not a bad one in them... just not a lot of scope for some of them either, I reckon.

But my one really big gripe about this movie is... The Lone Ranger! He’s not mentioned. Whaaaaaaaat the-? One of the things about The Green Hornet is he is a descendent of The Lone Ranger... exactly how he’s descended changes over the years... which I guess it would have to if all the remakes and continuations of the franchise take a leaf out of this film and don’t set it in the 1930s like it’s supposed to (another of my gripes about the current movie... Why set it now? "Now" looks rubbish.). It makes aesthetic sense too... both characters fight for justice and wear a mask and both characters have faithful side kicks... Tonto = Kato. But the new movie makes absolutely no mention of this silver mine of a connection! Okay then... own up! Which rival company has got the rights to The Lone Ranger character tied up! Why does art have to get f*cked by money all the time!

Anyway... nice end credits to the movie at least. In fact... I’d have to say the stylishly designed end credits sequence in 3D was the highlight of the movie. It would have been even better without all those rowdy Saturday night movie-goers getting up and walking out in front of the screen while I was trying to watch them.

Oh well. I’ve said all I can really say about this movie. Not sure if I could sit through it again... although I suspect it won’t be long before this one gets a sequel.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Irish Stew

(An)Other Irish Cinema
Directed by Donal Foreman,
Rouzbeh Rashidi and Maximilian Le Cain
for details of future screenings and access to these movies.

It was with a curious blend of eager anticipation and equal parts trepidation that I went to James Devereaux’s Drifting Clouds Cinema Group (click here to go there instead) presentation of the first London screening of the film making “group” (An)Other Irish Cinema. Anticipation because it was a night out in London (I don’t get out much these days... too busy writing these things) and I was finally going to get to meet some of those Twitter followers I see popping up on my screen on a regular basis (not least of whom was the organiser)... but tentative of the actual films I was about to be subjected too because... well... like I’ve said a few times before on this blog... I rarely “do” shorts!

The evening started less than helpfully with my friend and I getting lost at least twice on the way to Brick Lane but once we’d found the venue, which has a bar upstairs, and met the aforementioned Devereaux and various wags of dubious description (who look so much larger in life than their Twitter avatars... curiously), things started going a bit better. And the drinks were very... in the parlance of our time... value for money.

On to the screening then.

(An)Other Irish Cinema is a collection of three independent film-makers who live and work primarily in Ireland - Donal Foreman, Rouzbeh Rashidi, Maximilian Le Cain - and who have a quite impressive quantity of shorts (and in the case of Rashidi a fair number of features too) which share, from what I could work out, an exploration of film through less traditional, alternative ways of expression than that which can be found in the more staid narrative styles of mainstream pictures. This small “bande à part” of film-makers are trying to distribute (or at least screen) their own works outside of a system which would probably, in the current climate, chew them up and spit them out as something far more sinister than the perceived “model audience” would have the time or inclination for... so I think it’s probably a good idea of them to group together and present themselves in this manner and slowly try to change audience perceptions at screenings like these. Kind of like a pocket-sized equivalent of the Oberhausen Manifesto and I say this not to belittle their efforts but to applaud them on their way of doing things. Lets hope these opening shots at a collected, unified front to present an alternative way of celluloid expression gathers mass like a snowball rolling down a hill, getting bigger and bigger until something begins to click with the audiences that go to see them.

In a way, I felt quite privileged to be at that screening, where these shorts received their London premier in front of an audience.

Now, while the different styles of film-making presented by these three directors works were quite groundbreaking in terms of what you wouldn’t see at your common or garden multiplex, I think it would also be true to say that there is really nothing new on offer (at least in terms of short films)... but to assume that there should be would be to rather miss the point I suspect.

However, there is of course the very real “freshness” of seeing three sets of shorts made by three quite highly distinctive cinematic voices. Although the films were screened in an order that grouped together the directors contributions in their own chunks, I think it would be true to say that even if this were not the case, their styles are individually quite striking and unique... you won’t have any difficulty working out which of these short, exploratory pieces belonged together stylistically.

The screening started out with two shorts by Donal Foreman and these two were probably the most polished and less ambiguous of the three directors’ works in that they were kinda of glossy and slick and with a very beautiful juxtaposition of image and sound. The way the music works with and supports the image in these two is great and I have to say that either of these wouldn’t look out of place playing supporting short film to the majority of Hollywood popcorn fodder which flood our cinemas with their torpor inducing, big budget effects mentality.

This in no way describes the effect of Donal’s, quite brilliant, work of course. It’s far from torpor inducing. The energy and rhythm found within the shots make for a vibrant and fun time and sucks you into the picture... in a way I suspect the director would hate, since one of the binding factors of these three artists seems to be their collected rejection of absorption within the film itself and more of a direct visual and audio “prod” to wake up the viewer and let the audience be aware of the act of watching these films. A less passive and more challenging cinema and, frankly, very much in the vein of Godard (spiritually, not stylistically) who I suspect may be one of their celluloid soul-mates.

One set of film-makers I do know are influences on their work (I know this because they did a Q&A with Devereaux after the screening) are some of the more famous of the Soviet directors such as Vertov and Dovzhenko.

The next three shorts screened were by Rouzbeh Rashidi and I can certainly detect an air of Vertov’s Man With A Movie Camera in his work. Images which make up impressions of little, almost observations, of individual’s everyday life which collide with each other at 24 frames per second and give you almost an implied narrative thrust... even though there is no specific or overt story element to spell out just what is going on for you.

This is a quality of Rashidi’s work (as seen here) which I think is something he shares with Donal too, in that Donal’s two shorts also give an implication of a linear story arc going on... but the difference between these two director’s works and the works of most directors found in the mainstream is that these films seem to be very much about empowering or at least asking the audience to interact with the images and sound they are seeing and to bring their own narrative interpretations with them and to fit them over these cinematic “coat hangers” with their own togs... no two audience members are going to bring the same kinds of coat but this doesn’t invalidate their right to hang their jacket on these movies and call that interpretation their own.

Maximilian Le Cain, on the other hand, seems to totally abandon the illusion of narrative crutches in the three shorts that screened by him. These are much more experimental than his compatriots in that, where Donal and Rashidi may both use metaphor peppered in with their collisions of sight and sound, Le Cains technique seems to be going for the throat in a more direct manner and metaphor is pushed to the foreground as your brain tries to frantically decode the images on screen and assign meanings that may or may not be there.

Le Cain’s films are almost a grimy, poster boy image for that overwrought, 80s design cliché phrase... “the medium is the message”, as the images throw the viewer right “up close and personal” by making these a more, “first person” visual stance than the previous two directors. That’s not to say that I liked Le Cain’s films any better than the other two directors... in fact I probably liked his the least because they gave me the hardest time trying to digest the images (which may well have been the inherent point of at least one of the films on offer anyway)... but from listening to him talk at the end of the screening, I think it would be fair to say that this kind of a reaction to his work would not unduly displease him.

Like his movies, Le Cain himself, or at least the way he presented himself in the Q&A, seems very big on image. He looks, in real life, like an almost overworked graphical cliche of the”working class artist” and out of all three of the directors on show that night, I think he’s the one I’d least like to be chasing me down a street brandishing a big board with a nail in it. Definitely a very larger than life character is my guess.

Actually, that’s probably not the kind of thing I should have got out of the Q&A, but I suppose those last three films probably scrambled my brains up a little.

What I did discover in the Q&A, apart from the nouvelle-vague sensibility of a more involving response to these particular flickers of shade and light was the fact that a big influence on the work of Rashidi is Andrei Tarkovsky (woohoo... and one of my all time favourite directors gets a name check). It took me a little while to work out what Rashidi takes from Tarkovsky’s work and I think, rather than being influenced by any specific visual style, perhaps the spirit of Tarkovsky in the way he observed things without explaining their value to the information being received by the audience as a whole and then letting the audience find the meaning within the frames themselves (or not as the case may be) would perhaps be where the common ground between these two directors lies. Also, perhaps, in the way that time is compressed or expanded within the running time so that you are not always sure whether you’ve been watching for 2 minutes or 10 minutes. The rambling kind of pacing giving you a sense of calming observation rather than a concentration on the passage of cumulative narrative effect.

And then there’s Donal... who comes across very much as the spokesperson of the “group”. Not necessarily because he is particularly outgoing or hard sell... just by way of the fact that the others don’t really say too much. Rashidi stands on the edge of the group looking more like the non-smiling Tarkovsky who is his hero and Le Cain a big, powerhouse of a Bond villain that you wonder where he’s hiding his white pussycat and his mechanical hands with their black iron touch of death. Donal, on the other hand, talks a mile a minute and when he’s not talking he whips out a digital camera and start taking shots and filming... very much the enthusiastic film-maker and a good figurehead for a tongue-in-cheek but resolutely challenging and enthusiastic bunch of filmmakers.

Go here to find out more about them and try to see some of their stuff on the internet if you can get the chance. This stuff may well confuse and rattle your brain... but at least it won’t rot it! Which is not something a lot of mainstream movie companies could say about their product these days.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Rifling Secrets of the Winchester

Haunting of
Winchester House 3D
2009 USA
Directed by Mark Atkins
Point Blank DVD
Region 2

Normally I’d put a spoiler warning in colour highlighted text at the start of a review of this kind of movie where I will, and I state this now by way of a caution, reveal the so-called twist ending of this movie. However, the only warning I could possibly give you to this kind of viewing experience, and it is an experience, is that you really would never, ever want to subject your poor eyeballs to a film that is quite this bad. So a spoiler warning makes no odds really... and besides, you’ll guess the final twist when a certain incident happens about five minutes into the movie... if you’re silly enough to waste the number of minutes of your life that viewing this movie will take from you.

This movie cost about £3 from a local Asda supermarket... and for that startlingly value-for-money price you get, not only the movie in 2D, but also the “full on” 3D version of the movie and two pairs of 3D glasses for watching said version so that not just you, but you and your designated friend, lover or family member can both simultaneously see this dubious entertainment and have your torturously bored minds feel like your inner souls are being sucked from your bodies and subjected to the worst tosh you’ve had to survive watching in years.

The one thing I might possibly add to this last statement is that... after you’ve payed your £3 (for any American readers that’s about 4 dollars and 82 cents at the current exchange rate) and sat through this soul-sucking extravaganza... you’re possibly going to be wondering why the distributors didn’t pay you to be watching his tripe and not the other way around!

Now I quite like bad movies and will quite often knowingly buy absolute garbage because I know it will be fun garbage and not take itself too seriously. Horror films are even better because the “rules of the horror film” are so simple to follow and recreate that it’s very rare a director can screw it up. So when a film like Haunting of Winchester House comes up and makes you realise that even editing sequences in an order that doesn’t totally jar the viewer is not even a given... you sometimes get the painful reminder that not every movie maker is competent enough to put out a coherent movie and that rare revelation makes you appreciate some of the more competently put together rubbish just that much more.

This movie, the story of a father, mother and daughter who move to a haunted house as the dad has a new caretaking job there, is a truly dreadful film. The script is bad and obvious as when... and here’s where my spoiler is folks and, believe me, I’m doing you a favour... the family car takes a tumble off of a roadside down a hill on the way to the house and the three of them have to walk the rest on foot... not realising that they actually died in that car crash and are therefore ghosts and more subject to seeing the aspiring to be but totally lame spookiness of their personal “haunting”.

On top of that the acting is poor, the direction seems muddled but that might be because the editing is all over the place with sequences that just don’t seem to make sense or be in the right order once the “haunting” gets properly under way. There’s a big piece of blurb about how this DVD contains extra footage which wasn’t found in the theatrical version... Hmmm... let me think about that for a second. Well, for one thing, I just don’t believe this mess of a movie was ever released theatrically. I’m pretty sure this “horror” of a movie (as opposed to bona fide horror movie) was part of the modern “straight to DVD” phenomenon. And secondly, I reckon I can spot some of the extra footage without ever having seen the “previous version”. There’s sequences in here where the characters are walking around even though you just saw them kidnapped and then saying the same lines they just said five minutes ago... I don’t think we’re seeing extra footage of new scenes put back in the movie... I think what we’ve got here is a case of alternative versions of those same scenes edited back in side-to-side with the original footage so as not to waste shot footage which the director or producer may have thought good enough to inflict on his victims (that’d be us, the audience) and couldn’t make up their mind about which version to go with... so they just spliced them in together in the hopes that by this time your brain will be sufficiently numbed not to notice. Honestly, I’m just guessing here but... well I reckon that’s probably a lot closer to the truth than we’re ever going to know on this one.

Oh and by the way, I did mention you get two pairs of 3D glasses to watch this with, right? I guess that means the distributors think that anyone dumb enough to buy this movie is going to actually have no more than one friend to be able to watch this with. And besides... it’s really terrible 3D which works infrequently at best. Yes... you and your haunted horror movie watching kindred spirit can both indulge in the act of head turning, squinting, squatting just in front of the TV at different angles like a game of Twister, checking the “cardboard glasses” to see if you’ve got them on the right way round (it’s using the old red and green “lens” system) and finally end up shouting at each other to see if the other one can actually see a certain shot in 3D or whether the whole screen has just gone completely green because your rebelling eyeballs are rounding up support with pitch-forks and flaming brands to jump right out of your watering eye sockets and chase you around the room for making them look at such mindless drivel! Regardless of the 3D!

So there you have it. Did I like this movie, you may be wondering at this point? The answer would have to be, perhaps less than surprisingly, no. Did I enjoy this movie? Well yeah, kind of actually. It’s actually very rare that I get to see a modern movie that is so incompetently made that the shots and sequences jump all over the place and don’t even match up with each other. And the acting is something else... in fact it’s anything else other than acting! Seriously, it’s an experience to watch (and how) and I will be lending this to my friend and his wife to watch (with the disclaimer that eyeballs could be damaged and that reactions to the lack of artistic verisimilitude are entirely at the viewers risk) but... I can’t in all honesty say that I am contemplating ever watching it again.

If you like horror movies then you might want to give this one a wide berth. If, however, you like driving the wrong way down a crowded street of oncoming traffic 20 miles over the speed limit and ignoring any hazard signs, oblivious to those strange wailing sirens you can hear catching up to you in the distance... then you might want to give this behemoth of lumbering ham-fistedness a quick watch... if, you know, you have nothing better to do... like watching paint dry or balancing coins on your elbow and then trying to catch them.

Oh... one last thing... apart from never trusting a quote from DVD Review again, after giving it such glowing praise on the front cover jacket of the DVD, the box also tells the less than cautious potential viewer that it’s “The Terrifying True Story”. Seriously now, how can this movie be based on a true tale if nearly all of the main protagonists are dead after the first five minutes. Was this screenplay written at a seance? Think about it!

Thursday, 3 February 2011

The Ward and the Sorcerer

John Carpenter's The Ward 2011 USA
Directed by John Carpenter
Playing at UK cinemas now.

Warning: Here be multifaceted, psychological spoilers to penetrate and split
your fragile personality!

Man! It’s been 10 years since a movie directed by that “Sorcerer of Scares”, John Carpenter, has fetched up on our celluloid shores here in our merry little island of a country (and I’m as pleased that he’s got a new film out as I am that I managed to justify this post title within my first paragraph). 10 years since the science-fiction western Ghosts of Mars was entertaining people like my friends and I, while getting a critical drubbing from seemingly everyone else.

I’ve missed him. I’ve always had a big, soft spot for Carpenter since I was totally gobsmacked by The Fog when I was a kid... could never really get into Halloween but a load of his other films were always great to watch as the, almost always, 2.35:1 aspect ratios filled the width of my imagination. I guess in some ways it’s not completely true to say it’s been ten years... he did, after all, direct two of the better episodes of the excellent Masters of Horror TV show in the interim. But Carpenter’s always been about the big screen for me... those large, wide, anamorphic canvasses inspired by the likes of John Ford and Howard Hawks (perhaps more Hawksian in tone than visual inspiration?) where you just know all the action is going to be immaculately framed and presented with a lovingly crafted electronic score, often by the director himself, to give it that extra layer of “Carpenterness“ that some other directors lack.

So I was hugely looking forward to The Ward last week as I sat in my local flea-pit waiting for the credits to roll... and what credits! They’ve kinda taken a leaf out of Sam Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell opening titles, except using old illustrations of horrifying psychiatric cures from the dawn of the science of the mind instead of images of demons, but then adding a layer of shattering glass while all this is going on... perhaps a very conscious allusion to the disturbing psychological states that this films deals with as highlighted by Carpenter’s director friend Dario Argento and one of Argento’s chroniclers who quotes Suspiria in the title of her book, Broken Mirrors, Broken Minds.

I have to say that watching this one was a bit of a mixed bag for me. The story of a new arrival in a seemingly haunted mental ward... on the one hand it does what a Carpenter movie, when he’s got his “strictly horror” head on, does best... it does make you jump a fair bit. On the other hand it really is an obvious movie to watch (the only surprises being which side of the screen the next jump is going to come from) and not very far removed from those old psycho-babble Hollywood productions of the 40s and 50s where studios were using their “new found confidence” in various psychological symptoms and either simplifying them or just plain getting them wrong and using that to hang a thrilling plot of a movie on... the absolute best of that particular bunch and one I would urge everyone to watch, even though it’s as guilty of “crimes against psychology” as the next movie, is Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound. That’s a really great one (and try to get a print with the 12 frames of red in it).

And that’s the real problem with this movie, I think... at least from my point of view. There’s a really obvious, almost Scooby-Doo explanation for everything that’s going on in the film and I did kind of feel that my intelligence was being insulted to a large degree while I was waiting for the next-big-scare. You are almost certainly going to guess the “twist ending” to the film which involves the discovery of, well, a large number of multiple personalities and I can’t help but think that this movie is aimed, as most movies are these days, largely at a teenage audience... I don’t think even the director would argue with that. After all... only teenagers go to see scary movies, right?

But, take away the inadequacies of the plotline and you have another layer which I think (hope) was a stylistic intention of the movie rather than a lack of coverage during the shoot. And that is the fact that the film tends to jump around and play fast and loose with making clear certain events. It’s almost like it’s jump cutting around the little bits of information it doesn’t want you to overtly know yet. At first I thought this was Carpenter playing around with the fragmentary/splintered nature of the human psyche as it is portrayed here (and that may well have been his artistic intent with the editing style on this one) but after I realised what the end of the movie was going to be, I also came to the conclusion that, had Carpenter let certain scenes play on, they would reveal the twist to the movie almost straight away (which he kind of did anyway... obviously).

This is not to say in any way that The Ward is a clumsy film... far from it. As usual for a Carpenter film, the lighting and shot compositions and manipulative, pulse-like music are all top notch... I just think the film suffers from maybe having a badly written script... or possibly a great script that just doesn’t translate too well to the screen. Either way I was fairly torn as to how I felt about it... The Ward was the second film I’d seen last week to deal with protagonists with a steadily weakening grasp on their own reality (the other being Black Swan). I think on the whole I have to say that The Ward was a pretty fun watch... surefooted in it’s mise-en-scene and it did make me jump in a few places (that definitely gains it brownie points in my book) but I think it’s possibly one purely for die hard Carpenter fans or people who can easily dismiss the over-wrought plot line.

I’d certainly buy the DVD of this one... but I’ll wait until it hits the sales before making that purchase. I just hope this one moves some box office so Carpenter is encouraged to get back in the Director’s Chair more often... it’s been kinda lonely for horror fans without his new movies coming to visit.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

The Swan Kiss Goodnight

Black Swan 2011 US
Directed by
Darren Aranofsky
Playing at
UK cinemas now.

Warning: There are, kind of, spoilers in here for the people who really can’t figure out how this movie will end after being given the story ten minutes into this film.

I’ve been putting off writing this movie up because, for one thing, I know my take on it will probably be quite unpopular and sometimes people take bad reviews as a personal insult against their favourite movies (something I discovered from comments left on this blog in the past ;-). But as someone pointed out to me on twitter... I have to be honest... so here I am and the part of this process which really upsets me, given my reaction to Black Swan, is that I’m actually, or have always considered myself to be, a big supporter of Darren Aranofsky’s work and three of his last four movies are always good for multiple and regular viewings (if I could just get rid of this DVD backlog quicker I’d probably be watching them now instead of writing this!).

I remember when Pi hit the cinemas towards the end of the 90s... it was just an amazing film and seemed to me to be an absolute masterpiece... a conclusion from which I’ve not strayed. I even loved the comic book spin-off from it, The Book Of Ants.

Then came Requiem For A Dream, which I saw premiered at the London Film Festival, and it had a similar, mind blowing effect on me. Memories of leaving the auditorium (a fair few people had already walked out halfway through from the sheer intensity of it) and being completely and totally depressed by it... just totally blew me away. And Clint Mansell’s amazing score... straight away I knew it was going to be one of those classic pieces of music that captures the attention of the world in much the same way as The James Bond Theme or The Pink Panther theme or the two-note repeat structure of Johnny William’s Jaws did. It didn’t take long for the rest of the world to prove me right on that one as the main theme from Requiem For A Dream has got to be one of the most over-used pieces of music on modern movie trailers since the films release... they even recorded a more appropriately re-orchestrated version of it to play out on the trailer to Peter Jackson’s less than stellar but hugely popular movie The Two Towers (aka Lord of the Rings Part 2). Believe me... the long wait between the November London Film Festival and the movie and score’s January release at the cinema and on CD shelves respectively was a long one for me.

Then came The Fountain and, although at first I was unsure of it as it wasn’t as intense or as frenetically paced a film as his previous two masterworks, it proved to have a deeply haunting and emotional intensity as one of the incarnations of the character played by Hugh Jackman battles to try to find a cure for his wifes terminal cancer. A very sad film which, like the two before it, bears up to multiple viewings.

And then there was The Wrestler... and it kind of felt a little bit like Aranofsky had “sold out to the man” and decided not to pursue his quirky and intense little world anymore. Don’t get me wrong... fine film, hard edged with fine performances and a solid, emotional heart (like all his films before) but it was also a little bit run-of-the-mill for Aranofsky, I thought. Not something I would ever bother to watch again so I could get dazzled by his marvellous technique.

And that’s where I am with Black Swan in a way... but maybe it’s not quite as good a film as even The Wrestler for me in that it lacks that emotional heartbeat that keeps all the previous films alive and vital.

I keep wondering if all the pre-release hype about Black Swan actually ramped up my expectations for it... but I don’t think that’s the case as I really didn’t know much of anything about it until I was siting there in the audience other than it was an “intense” drama about ballet dancers who turn into beasts... or some such.

And then there was the music...

Ever since the heady days of Pi and Requiem For A Dream I’ve been keeping an eye out for Clint Mansell’s scores because, for an ex-pop band member, he has done some truly amazing pieces of work. I may not have great memories of the Clive Cussler adaptation Sahara, for example, but Mansell’s score for it is amazing... it’s the greatest James Bond soundtrack ever written for a non-Bond film! Seriously... if David Arnold was ever going to retire from the Bond franchise then just a few minutes listening to Mansell’s Sahara should convince you that he should get the job next. Quite amazing.

So as soon as the physical CD of Mansell’s score for Black Swan hit the shops over here in the UK, about a week before the release of the movie, I rushed out to buy it and take a listen... that’s when I knew there might be something seriously wrong with this movie. What I got on the soundtrack CD was basically warmed up Swan Lake with the odd and not nearly frequent enough dissonance thrown over the top. My first reaction to this was... “Oh... so Clint Mansell likes James Horner’s score to Gorky Park too” because, seriously, this whole score is just like a long but not nearly as intense version of Horner’s Main Title music to that film. I just couldn’t believe it... and it seemed so pleasant in contrast to Horner’s more jarringly effective acoustic assault. In fact, given that Black Swan has only been on release over here for a couple of weeks, I find it more than suspect that a very limited edition of Horner’s Gorky Park has just been remastered and rereleased to a rabid fan base. Hmmm... wonder what prompted that then? Is it because both composers are doing “fucked up Tchaikovsky” as their modus operandi?

So yeah... was treading a little cautiously when I went to the cinema for Black Swan, but still really looking forward to it... until the minutes wore on and I found that... far from being the kind of intense hybrid of Dario Argento’s movies Suspiria and The Stendhal Syndrome that I’d been expecting (well it kinda was story-wise... just not nearly as intense), this reminded me of the old Fame TV show more than anything... but at least on Fame you felt there was more pain and suffering and intensity going on (and believe me, there’s nothing more intensely scary as seeing Leroy wear a leotard... avast!).

I don’t know really what the problem with this movie was for me, because the actors were all top notch talent and all gave a really good performance... I think I have to lay the blame at Aranofsky’s door on this, much to my regret (please... somebody tell me the producers took the film away from him and recut it). In the end, though, I just didn’t care really what happened to any of the characters, there were no real surprises in the movie that you don’t see coming a mile off and, ultimately... it just felt kinda... to abscond with a young persons phrase... well... meh!

And, of course, by having a summary of the story of Swan Lake at the start of the movie (a story I didn’t know until now)... well it kinda gives away the end of the movie and takes away what might have been a final surprise... if one had been snoozing through half the movie. We know the main female protagonist is going to die at the end of the ballet as the swan does in the ballet itself. And no amount of schizophrenic imagery on the part of Natalie Portman’s protagonist and half-hearted attempts to fool us with her distorted perception of events is going to fool us by this point.

Even the fairly well done and sparingly used swan transformation sequences seem a little lacking in energy and all the way through I kept thinking to myself... “Golly! If I didn’t know this was an Aranofsky film I would have never had pegged it to him.” It just seemed so pedestrian you see?

My one positive note on the whole proceedings, to a degree, was the fact that Clint Mansell’s score, in the context of the movie, seemed really appropriate to the on screen action... that is to say... a less than challenging score for a less than challenging film.

And I really wish I hadn’t had such a bad time at the cinema with this movie but there you have it. This will be the second Darren Aranofsky movie that I will fail to buy on DVD I’m afraid.