Tag Archives: film

69. The Woman in Black – James Watkins (2012)

First Viewing.

There’s not been too many horror reviews over the past 60+ entries on this blog, I’ve never really been the biggest fan of the genre. However, there are a few that I do love, The Exorcist, naturally, The Fly (1986 version), possibly not quite a horror, but pretty damn creepy, El Ofanto, and a small bunch of Asian films. That’s about it. The problem that I have with the whole genre is that I’m not really scared by them, and this isn’t a macho boast or anything, cos there’s plenty of things that do scare me, like people preparing my food with dirty hands, Joan Rivers/Pete Burns’ plastically altered faces, or getting a really bad hair cut.  Horror films, on the other hand, don’t bring on the night terrors, so when I see a horror flick it needs to be more than something just trying to scare the crap out of me. So, bearing that in mind, I present a quick review of The Woman in Black.

We all know Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter, even to someone like me who’s only seen a couple of the films and never read any of the books he is Harry Potter. He’ll always be known for those performances. This is the first role I’ve seen him in playing someone other than a wizard, and, I suspect, the first time most other people have too. So, the big question is, does he manage to jump out of that huge spectacled shadow? I would say yes, to a certain extent. His performance is very sound, well acted, and I didn’t expect him to call for Ron at the first sign of trouble. However, I don’t think he was quite right for the role, he seems way too young. The story revolves around Arthur (Radcliffe) visiting a house, circa 1910, that has recently had a death in it, and his job is to correct paperwork for a will. Arthur is also a widower, and left with a young son. As you can guess certain things start happening to Arthur once he reaches the house, and so on…. The problem I had with Radcliffe playing a widower like Arthur is that he doesn’t carry enough gravitas or weariness to make the character seem real. He’s too fresh-faced. He does the best he can under the circumstances, but, picking a name off the top of my head,  say Johnny Depp, for instance, he would have been much more suitable. This isn’t so much a criticism of Radcliffe, but more of the casting process for the film. No doubt though having Radcliffe attached certainly helped get the movie made and, subsequently, receive plenty of attention in the press when it was released, so I can see why he’s in the lead role.

The film, as a whole, is pretty good. It ticks all the boxes for me when it comes to horror; it’s not utterly predictable, it’s fairly suspenseful and it doesn’t have characters walking around doing completely stupid things like so many other horrors movies do. I’ve always been an advocate of the “less is more” approach to making a horror. I honestly don’t want to see dozens of people sawn to death (unless it’s the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and so on, but give me flickering ghosts/people in the corner of the room, and some creepy music and I’m a lot more happy. Building up suspense is a much underrated movement in modern horror it seems. Thankfully The Woman in Black goes for the understated approach, in fact, it does it even more than I thought possible. It really takes it too the limit, and, I guess, perhaps that’s why this film doesn’t get the best wrap from other viewers. It’s, arguably, a little too slow and methodical for most peoples taste. I liked it though.

All in all I don’t really have too many complaints. It’s a good “nuts and bolts” horror as Mark Kermode would say, and that’s fine with me.

Marks out of ten – Seven.

 

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61. Synecdoche, New York – Charlie Kaufman (2008)

First Viewing.

Synecdoche, New York is one of those films I’ve been planning on catching it since it’s release five years ago, but it’s kept eluding me. I’ve always liked, maybe not loved, Kaufman’s scripts – I’m one of the few who’d take Adaptation over Eternal Sunshine – and have been anxious to see what kind of director he is. As you may have guessed, I’ve finally  managed to see Synecdoche, and, after much anticipation, I’m a little unsure of what I’ve just witnessed. The plot is unexplainable, I won’t even attempt it, but  IMDB has a stab at it with this, “A theater director struggles with his work, and the women in his life, as he attempts to create a life-size replica of New York inside a warehouse as part of his new play.” – I’m not sure that even covers 5% of what this movie is about. There is no reality, anything can happen, time shifts forward at random intervals, and logic doesn’t play any part in the structure of the film. Characters exist in ways that escape definition. It’s all very abstract and postmodern. And part of me enjoyed the dreamlike quality of the film, but the cynical part of me wants to dismiss the film, and it’s many fans, as just following the Emperor’s new clothing. It doesn’t engage me the same way Lynch’s Mulholland Drive or Inland Empire does. I’m sure a repeat viewing would help immensely, but I think I’m going to need a few months before I want to sit through S-NY again.

The film relies a lot on metaphors and us, the viewer, being able to put together some moments in the film that really don’t make much obvious sense. For example, one of the main characters buys a house that is constantly on fire. The fire is contained, but the house is filled with smoke. This character lives her whole life in this building. Now you can either view this as pretentious nonsense, or, as a commentary on how we accept things in our life, and put ourselves through trauma that we need not do. How you interpret/view these moments will probably influence your opinion on the film; it’s either boring or brilliant.

I’m still yet to make up my mind on SN-Y. There are moments that I love, but there were more times where I was looking at my watch waiting for it to finish. I wouldn’t dismiss it, but I also wouldn’t recommend it. So, until a second viewing, I’m going to say it’s a little too abstract for my liking.

Marks out of ten – Five

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60. Videodrome – David Cronenberg (1983)

Repeat Viewing.

“Long Live the New Flesh”

Stop me, ohh stop me, stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before, but David Cronenberg is a genius. I know I’ve been bloggin’ his praises at length recently, I can’t help it, I love him, even slightly more than I used to. <I’ll stop with the Moz paraphrasing> Although interestingly, and perhaps only interesting to me, is that Videodrome, with all it’s perverseness and horror, wasn’t banned, but “Stop Me…“, by The Smiths, was. Good ole’ BBC. Anyway, on to the review!

Videodrome is fucked up, incomprehensible, dangerous, creepy, disturbing, and it’s all done in the best possible way. Here’s the story if you don’t know it; Max Renn, played by James Woods at his absolute smarmy best, is the owner of an ultra low budget Toronto cable TV station. Renn provides his viewers with the worst material available; seedy, cheap, erotic/violent stuff. It’s basically The Sun newspaper in televisual form. Renn is also dating Nicki Brand, a radio agony aunt, played by Debbie Harry. Of course this being a Cronenberg movie the agony aunt likes to let off steam by having masochistic sex with Renn. Nothing is ever what it seems to be in Videodrome. Woods’ quest for the quintessential form of  cheap entertainment brings him to Videodrome; a TV show like no other, it’s violent and sexual beyond the normal bounds of TV. From the moment Videorome is introduced into the story it gets weird, inexplicably weird. Renn’s life is twisted apart to the point where he no longer is himself. It would give too much away to continue with the narrative, but be prepared for anything to happen.

Videodrome is the pinnacle of the Cronenberg horror phase. It’s where he takes all the gore of his previous scary movies and marries it with an attack on the brain. You literally start to wonder what the fuck is going on, and then you start to wonder how Cronenberg could have created such an alarming and psychotic story. This man must need help! Videodrome is inventive to the point where it becomes surreal, you lose yourself inside the movie, you have to let the weirdness wash over you.

I love Videodrome. It is completely unique. There’s nothing I’ve seen that can rival Videodrome for the genuine surprise of what happens in this film. And I don’t mean surprise in terms of plot twists, but surprise in the sense that a film can be so strange, provocative, powerful and affecting. Like all Cronenberg flicks not everyone will enjoy it, he’s a love it or hate it kind of director. I’ve read reviews from people who’ve hated Videodrome. They couldn’t stand watching it. I’ve read dozens of reasons why it doesn’t work, but that for me is the point of Videodrome, it’s doing something that creates a reaction from the viewer. So, fuck The Ring and it’s scary videotapes, Videodrome, the videotape, is much more disturbing. If this were a 1950s film trailer, instead of an occasionally witty blog, it would tell you to “watch it if you dare” and laugh ominously.

Marks out of ten – Ten

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59. The Lost Weekend – Billy Wilder (1945)

First Viewing.

If Billy Wilder were a band he’d be The Beatles, just take a look at some of the hits in his back catalogue; Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, Sabrina, The Seven Year Itch, Witness for the Prosecution, The Apartment, and, of course, Some like it Hot. Three of those films, Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, and Witness for the Prosecution all could make a great case for being in my own personal favourite top ten. Wilder really was a true master of his craft. The Lost Weekend is one of his earlier films, and, I find, his earlier work to be more daring than the later stuff which was more mainstream and safe, by comparison. (The reverse of what The Beatles did!)

The plot of The Lost Weekend is fairly simple and doesn’t have any major twists or turns; we follow the life of Don Birnam, played by Ray Milland, and he, plain and simple, is a drunk. A drunk, but with aspirations to be a writer. We follow his life and the depths to which it sinks; stealing, begging and lying just to get himself a drink. We see alcohol corrupt his life to such an extent that nothing matters any more except where and when he can get his next fix. He does have one saving grace, his girlfriend, Helen, devoted to him beyond all reason. She believes in him, and his ability to conquer the booze, and to write that great American novel. Don also has the help of his brother, Wick, who has cleared up plenty of Don’s mess over the past few years, literally and metaphorically. Wick’s on the verge of giving up on Don though, Don’s about to hit rock bottom. And, this lost weekend, is Don losing it completely.

There’s a lot to like about this film; it’s not overtly sentimental, it doesn’t sugarcoat alcoholism, and, most importantly for me, it does it’s best to avoid a clichéd and obvious ending. Wilder and Milland do a fantastically adept job of making us dislike and pity Don Birnam, but we never hate him. His character has no obvious redeeming characteristics – he treats his girlfriend, brother and acquaintances like shit- but we root for him, even though we really shouldn’t. That’s the great thing about this film, we want him to get better, and go on to be a success. It wouldn’t work if we gave up on the guy. The downside to the film is that it’s not exactly uplifting! The idea of watching a man drink himself to the verge of death for 90 minutes isn’t ever going to be fun. There are times when watching Don’s drunken antics can become predictable and boring, but these moments are rare enough that it doesn’t detract from the bigger picture that Wilder is painting. At times Wilder is really pushing the boundaries of 1940s filmmaking. The Lost Weekend has an almost dangerous, illicit feel to it. You never feel comfortable, anything could happen when Don’s on screen.

I wouldn’t call The Lost Weekend a hidden treasure, it’s an Oscar winner for starters, it is, however, one of the slightly lesser known Wilder movies, and yet equally as worthy as any of the others for a viewing. It makes for a great late night watch especially, go check your TV guides for it’s next appearance.

Marks out of ten – Eight

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54. New York, I Love You – Multiple Directors (2009)

First Viewing.

New York, I hate you- This movie is awful. I had such high hopes for it after it’s prequel, of sorts, Paris Je T’aime. If you’re unfamiliar with the films’ concept it’s a collection of short films, somewhat connected, about a city, Paris in the original, and New York City here. The short films here are so cringe inducing and boring that I couldn’t wait for the film to end. It has one, possibly two, worthwhile stories. One involving an elderly couple who are celebrating their 63rd wedding anniversary by taking a trip to the beach. It has a beautiful moment, by far the best in the film, where the elderly couple embrace on the beach. It’s almost tear inducing. Other than that section there’s not much else going on, a scene where Bradley Cooper is meeting up with Drea De Matteo and we are privy to their internal thoughts is okay, but that’s really it in terms of the “good” stuff.

How about the bad stuff I hear you ask? There’s just too much to recount, but there were two scenes, in particular, that made me want to scoop my eyes out of my head with a spoon and then cut off my ears with a rusty knife. The first being a scene between Rachel Bilson, Andy Garcia and Hayden Christiensen. It has the worst dialogue I’ve heard in a long, long time. It doesn’t help that Hayden Christiensen has the acting ability of a baboon, while Rachel Bilson’s performance would make Kristen Stewart’s classic wooden delivery seem like Diane Keaton’s performing it. It’s utter shit all round. I threw up in my mouth at some of the dialogue. It’s so bad. So bad. I don’t even know what the hell they were talking about together it’s so bad. The other scene that made me want to cry involved Olivia Thirlby pretending to be wheelchair bound. I assume the writer intended for this story to be whimsical and sweet, but it ends up being patronising and damn right offensive to disabled people, actually, it’s offensive to everyone! One part of the story is beyond tacky. Thirlby, who at this point we assume is disabled, wraps her arms up on some tree branches thus leaving her legs dangling below her and she then proceeds to ask her date to take off her underwear and fuck her while she swings from the branches. It isn’t sweet or romantic, it’s so contrived and stupid that I wanted to turn off the movie there and then.

The rest of the shorts are crappy and forgettable. Ethan Hawke, despite his talent, can’t make the awful dialogue in his short seem real or entertaining. Chris Cooper’s scene is pure cheese. Natalie Portman’s is so boring I can’t even recall it. Shia LeBeouf as a disabled east european bell-hop was stunningly bad. And on and on it goes.

And, possibly the worst thing to come out of this movie, is that you get no sense at all for NYC. These scenes could be happening anywhere in the world. It’s garbage.

Marks out of ten – Three

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