Archive | August, 2012

THE POSSESSION (2012) dir. Ole Bornedal

27 Aug

The name Sam Raimi might be asssociated with this movie but as producer his role was to make the soil fertile, not to grow the crops. Don’t be surprised either, that something is all too familiar about The Possession. The greatest downfall of the film is that it has already been done elsewhere.

If we hadn’t seen an exorcism film before, then we might enjoy it more, although it lacks the tingles of ultimate exorcism-gore film The Exorcist, it does have an appeal and beauty. It is well researched and inspired by a true story written about in an article by Leslie Gornstein that you can read here.  

A young girl (Natasha Calis) buys a wooden box at a yard sale. It is engraved with Hebrew letters and is mysteriously unopenable. When she finally gets to look inside it, she finds it filled with creepy bits and bobs: a ring, a dead creature and a tooth amongst other things. The possession begins with a plague of moths. The girl is obviously behaving strangely by this point – she sits on her bed hugging the box – oblivious to the insects that surround her.

Her obsession with the weird box begins to alarm her father (Jeffery Dean Morgan), who is surprisingly intelligent for someone in a horror film, quickly drawing the conclusion that she must be possessed. He goes off to find a Rabbi to do the work.

In the meantime, the mother (Kyra Sedgwick) also discovers something is wrong with her daughter, her newly warped behaviour is inexplicable. Instead of typing ‘possession wooden box’ into google, she sensibly takes the girl to hospital to investigate further.

The tension between the recently divorced parents was excellent and added to the sharp pace of the film. The well-delivered script drew some light relief and raised a laugh in places (but not Evil Dead style). There were just enough frights to stay alert.

The cinematography gave the impression of being well thought through, with muted colours creating light and dark contrasts, slowly building a wall of fear. I would say that it was easy-going horror, the kind of film that you might want to put on when you get in from the pub, when you want to curl up and feel safe and be a voyeur.

BRAZIL (1985) dir.Terry Gilliam

25 Aug

 Brazil is named after the song of the same name. It’s a stupid, cheery mindless song that occurs as theme music at moments of dreary monotony, symbolising the totalitarian state. ‘De de der de der dede der…’ insanely colourful in Gilliam’s vision of a grey future, in which a tendency for systems to return to disorder is exaggerated.

The irony of the juxtaposition between ideal and reality are summed up in the billboard we see in the background:

Could anything be more depressing or terrifying than losing your own identity amongst a sea of exacting others? When the protagonist, Sam Lowry, finally escapes from the dystopia he ironically hums Brazil.

The psychedelia of reminding the viewer that they are the viewer has something healing about it, a kind of self-reflexive appeal that releases our inner self, connecting to the universe in a new way. Withnail and I has this ability, The Holy Mountain also, both films remind us that we are watching actors act whilst the world turns around us. All three films are highly re-watchable – the  script has incorporated our contact as viewers, it takes a bit of our soul and we in turn take the message it contains and involve it in our lives, better people for the experience.

Brazil works upon our psyche in a subtle way. The passive theme music – as we are passive viewers – is part of another dimension until Sam hums it. Then he makes the world belong to him rather than submitting to the world. The dream sequences are symbols of his awareness of a dimension bigger than the screen (he has dreams where he is flying and fighting and in love with a woman). When the woman, Gill, comes into his life he must take possession of her. In the same way, the film comes into our sphere of reality and we must give it our attention. The underlying message is to try to make dreams realities: to believe in imagination.

Set in the future, the brilliance of Brazil is down to three things: the casting, the script and the sets. Casting Jonathan Pryce as Sam Lowry was an excellent choice. He is attractive without being imposing, has a lack of self-importance, is believable and likeable. The other stars in the film include Robert de Niro, Michael Palin, Bob Hoskins and Kim Greist as Gill. The script was written by Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard and Charles McKeown. It keeps a fast, entertaining pace. The sets are intriguing; the future world, designed in the 1980’s, is filled with imaginary items in a guess at contemporary life in the future.

Of course, much like it really is, the world of gadgets is plagued with malfunction and error. What must have been laughable twenty years ago is in 2012 the way things are. Who would have thought that using a pen and paper, our legs, or just generally doing things the long way could be more efficient than a computer? How many hours are spent staring at the screen while some engineer tries to fix it? Sam’s central heating is on the blink (alongside everything else electrical in his flat). Before Central Services can get an engineer out to him, Harry Tuttle, renegade heating engineer and suspected terrorist, arrives on the scene to work his bravado.

Brazil is full of detail masquerading as normal that is absolutely absurd. Renegade heating engineer? It’s rediculous. Sam’s well-connected mother and her obsession for plastic surgery, her ‘keeping-up-with-the-Jones’ friend, make hysterical viewing. The farce of the bureaucracy, form-filling and procedure. The irony of the child playing in the torture office. Meeting the stranger of your dreams in person and falling in love? It’s so much bullshit, it’s great!

THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED (1926) dir. Lotte Reiniger

15 Aug

When the Aubin Cinema in Shoreditch first opened, back in May 2010, it felt like a special secret. Luxurious, with some of the best acoustics to be found in a cinema, grey velvet sofas and wine coolers, yet to be discovered by a horde. The Adventures of Prince Achmed screened one Saturday morning. There was nobody else in the audience to behold its wonders but one small boy and his father.

 I hadn’t read any blurb about it, just happened upon it (so to speak), becoming utterly captivated by the quality of the animation. It’s lush! In fact, the only thing more beautiful that I’ve seen in a cinema was Voyage de la Lune, with a score by Air, restored in colour. That made me cry, it was incredible, the hairs on my neck stood on end, my whole self trembled. Still, The Adventures of Prince Achmed was thoroughly awe imposing, a sublime endeavour to encounter in the cinema. At the time I knew nothing about it; I supposed it to be a new release.

It’s possible to watch it from the comfort of your laptop via China. I tried it before embarking upon writing this. It’s better to find a copy with the subtitles translated into English (unless you speak German). Otherwise, expect the experience to be lovely and moving but also confusing, like visiting the ballet without first reading the programme, or playing poker without learning the rules. It’s the kind of film a young child might enjoy but you would have to talk them through it. “Now what’s happening? The sorcerer and the witch are fighting each other. Now they’ve turned into a lion and a snake,” catch my drift? (Watch out for the harem scene).

Yes there is a sorcerer and a witch and – in case that wasn’t magic enough –  Aladdin and a goddess called Pari Banu. Outrageous! I probably shouldn’t confess it but the shadowy Achmed is hot! He has a flying horse; it makes me go shivery. Every girl wants to be Pari Banu, let’s face it, she’s the best dressed silloette, even if her clothes resemble creepy doilies. It’s possible to imagine how opulent she would be if she were out of her world and not on top of a light box. Of course, Achmed and Aladdin win in the end. They get the ensorcered lamp back, everyone gets married, but Pari Banu, the shady figurine, has bird-power and settles for nothing less. No pleasing some.

It was a surprise to learn that The Adventures of Prince Achmed is ancient. It has an eternal quality that too few films ever have. Perhaps it is the most timeless film of all time (if some things are more timeless than others). Lotte Reiniger based the story on 1001 Arabian Nights. She worked on the film with other well known avant-garde animators. It was filmed frame by frame. To date it remains the oldest surviving animation. It is remarkable. A more electronic score would probably be of  benefit to the modern ear but the original is fine. The hues of the background linger on the palate with synthesia, sinister characters live on long inside our hearts with exquisite elegance, sixty-five minutes of mystery, silent visual poetry.

SELENA (1997) dir. Gregory Nava

15 Aug

There is something about the song Dreaming of You that I seem to remember from my youth. Maybe travelling to windsurfing with the radio on in the car – I don’t know – the American music chart on Atlantic 252, or possibly MTV. Anyway, most of the people who I’ve pestered since ‘discovering’ Selena have never heard of her or say “who?” looking misty-eyed, as if it’s a name they hear around, someone they ought to know. A comment on a youtube video led me to investigate who Selena was, what her legacy is about, and now I’ve been touched I won’t forget.

This isn’t Selena Gomez.  Oh no, this is Selena Quintanilla-Perez, a Mexican-American superstar, a heroine. She was shot in the shoulder by the swindling president of her fan club and bled to death in spring 1995, 16 days before her 24th birthday, 3 days before her 3rd wedding anniversary. This sad occurence ought to be scrubbed out of her history, eradicated, forgotten, and no more associated with her life. She was one of the most wonderful musicians of her generation, Queen of Tejano, a Texan beauty. I feel sorrow that when people remember Selena, they will always remember her untimely passing, alongside her music and spirit.

The film Selena is a beautiful account of a family in Texas facing financial hardship, turning to the band they formed as a hobby ‘to keep the kids of the streets,’ in order to make ends meet. Rebecca Lee Meza plays Selena when she was a young girl with big dreams. It came as a surprise, conflicting with stereotypes, to learn that Selena didn’t speak any Spanish. Her father encourages her to sing from the corazon. They moved to Corpus Christi, which seems a pleasant enough place besides the sea, and began touring round Texas playing at weddings and fetes.

Jennifer Lopez plays Selena in her older years. It’s a role she lives up to the challenge of playing. Selena seems to realise her fame when the tour bus breaks down and some guys pull over to help, not minding that their own car breaks, anything to help ‘Selenas’. EMI Latin signed them. They go to Mexico to play a gig and attract a crowd a hundred thousand strong, ten times greater than expected, the tiny stage inadequate for the ocean of fans.  Everyone is surprised by how smoothly things are going for the group against the odds. Selena has relentless determination and a positive outlook. Whenever her father has doubts, she remains absolutely confident in herself.

When her father forbids her from seeing her guitarist Chris Perez, with whom she is in love, a shotgun wedding occurs, forcing everyone into accepting their feelings for one another. It’s very romantic. But my favourite scene is in a mall in Los Angeles before the Grammys. In a nice shop, she asks the snobby assistant to try on a dress, the assistant replies that she doesn’t think she’ll be interested, that the dress has a price tag of $800. She looks at her as if she is a Mexican maid. Justice is poetic when Selena is spotted in the changing room by a Latino. Before the shop assistant can eat her words, the shop is filled with Hispanics seeking autographs, bombarding Selena. She’s just so lovely and embodies family values that you want her to be a success, to win the award, to be a household name. It’s a triumph when she gets the chance to accomplish everything she always dreamt of, to bring tejano to the mainstream, be a name on everyone’s lips.

J-Lo is great as Selena. The costumes are wonderful. The tejano music is energising. The vast majority of the film is very upbeat and inspiring. Of course, knowing what is to come, my eyes were filling up and I had a bit of a cry towards the end. The portrayal of the last few hours of her life was sensitive and respectful towards the wishes of her family and friends. If you want to know more, then have a play around online for further information. The film isn’t at all morbid but there is plenty of footage to be found on youtube. Selena is one to watch over and over, great for a rainy day, full of vibrancy, enthusiasm and optimism. Plus the music is awesome, you can’t help but wonder how far she would have gone, a star.

A SEPARATION (2011) directed and written by Asghar Farhadi

15 Aug

Iran. I’ve never been there. It’s not a place I can easily imagine because Iranian sociey is not prone to international exposure. America, on the other hand, is straightforward to hazard a guess about. I’m accustomed to what it might be like because it is frequently, daily, in the media here in the United Kingdom.

It’s fascinating that we British don’t clearly separate ourselves from the culture of the United States. Most people are somewhat aware that their culture is slightly different to that of an hour’s drive away but still readily accept as their own, lyrics, style and content of a distant land on the other side of a massive ocean. America seems to incorporate us in its dream. There is something so comfortable about our interpretation of the American way, here in the United Kingdom, that we embrace it as part of ourselves.

What I found interesting as a viewer of A Separation was the Iranianess of the film. The cinematography had that tinge of harshness that once was common to Al Jazeera and caputured so well by Eminem in the Without Me video. It instantly established a distance between my world and the setting. The film opens with passports being photocopied, filmed from the interior of the copier, blackened images pressed flat against the screen. The scanning motif continues with the viewer taking the position of a Judge in shariah court, like the photocopier presented with the passports, confronted by a couple applying for divorce.

Through the eyes of the Judge we watch as they argue. The wife wants to leave Iran to give her daughter a better life. The husband has a senile father to care for. He says he could give a thousand reasons to stay but then settles on this one. He refuses to give his permission for her to take their eleven year old daughter abroad. This is her case for divorce. He’s not a violent man. He’s a decent man. The Judge turns it out.

Unwittingly, we spend the rest of the film judging, evaluating events and characters. This is a film where actions, values and morality are at the core. It’s one of those clever films with an unobstrusive thirty seconds that at least half of the film hinges around. Simin, the wife (Leila Hatami), decides to leave her husband Nader (Peyman Moadi) anyway, with or without divorce. She goes to stay with her mother out of his way leaving Termeh, their daughter, behind with her father and grandfather in order to complete school. The grandfather needs a full-time carer whilst the son is at work, Razieh (Sareh Bayat) turns up to do the job, taking her young inquisitive daughter with her.

After the first day she finds it too demanding and quits only to come back the next. We hear her on the phone to some sort of advice service. She asks if it’s a sin to change the pants of a helpless elderly man. It’s not but that doesn’t seem to transform her feeings towards being in the role of carer, that somehow she is crossing a line by helping this old man, her husband might disapprove. Her daughter promises not to tell daddy. Razieh struggles to watch the old chap and keep him in his bed. She has other concerns to think about.

I would pigeonhole Razieh as one of those people who make mistake after mistake but instead of owning up, they smooth it over, deceive, lie, try to keep their dignity and continue in a state of pretence. It’s one thing being evasive but it’s another living in perpetual fear. People who really do get it right use that canopy to overcome fear; being at the top makes a person look error in the eye, there is nothing to be afraid of, if you are outwardly brilliant. Those who can’t hit the mark, be forthright, have the rest of us wasting our energies and resources by building unnecessary platforms for announcements to be made upon.

 A Separation is a story of these platforms. Just when you form an emotional connection with a character and have played judge, condemned, got comfortable, gathered an opinion, some new fragment of information sways, unsettles, is presented heightened. The Iranian element is ever present: women are not regarded as equals, men are violent, everyone tiptoes around God or ideas of what constitutes sin. This is a movie with a lot of drama about it, much like a film version of a Middle-Eastern Neighbours or Eastenders, events seem grossly distorted by passionate revelations. With every twist and turn we question what and who to believe.

I wonder who Farhadi had in mind when he made A Separation? Is it aimed at the outsider to Iran? Is it a showcase of everyday life? A cliche? Or is it as it would appear, a well-acted delineation of a good story, made by Iranians for Iranians and whomsoever else? It would be excellent to see more come out of this enigmatic country, if this is the standard of production. It would be great to engage more often with this refreshingly different, altogether less familiar society.

THE SEPTEMBER ISSUE (2009) dir. R.J. Cutler

15 Aug

If you like reading magazines, or, specifically, fashion magazines, then you will enjoy this documentary. I watched it because I thought I might learn something about producing an issue of American Vogue. If you are tired of changes happening in the world at a snail’s pace, it will come as welcome relief to see fashion power at its snappiest!

Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief and Grace Coddington, creative director get the biggest slice. It’s not really a film documenting or educating about daily life at the New York Conde Nast offices, no that would be altogether too boring, too exposing. It’s more a collection of offcuts of day-to-day activity, which skilled editing has pulled together into what resembles a patchwork of sequential events, the end product of which is the September 2007 issue.

It was the largest monthly ever published, this is sprawled all over the cover (which we don’t see until the end) but the film left me with pangs of emptiness. Where did all the advertising come from? How many people actually worked on it? Vastly more than the dozen or so we meet in the film, surely? What about the time scale? When did they start thinking about it? In February? Before? The mammoth September edition was happening alongside all the other editions, what about them? Do issues of Vogue tend to be made up of leftovers from other editions? What about an explanation of the lifecycle of an idea? It raised a lot of unanswered questions.

On the other hand, I did learn something, in a similar way I learnt something from the House of Eliott television series when into Vogue as a child. Something concerning fashion. Something old-fashioned. Something we need to see more of. Yes, values. Those intricate gossamers of belief structure, the mould out of which we are all cast, the spark of clarity that shines through as style, presented on screen as narrative formed out of the fabric of relationships, working towards a magazine on shop shelves.

Anna Wintour, when asked what her strengths are says “decisiveness” without having to pause. That’s why she’s editor of American Vogue.  She’s British and carries a formidable reputation (The Devil Wears Prada was written by a former personal assistant).  Ideas that originated in other humans are put before her and ‘no, no, why this? no, that one is ok’ must seem like an endless systematic reaction arbitrarily flowing from her. Her magic is that her choices aren’t as random as they appear. I expect if you quizzed her about what she was rejecting she could talk to you at length about each of her split-second judgements but probably refrains from doing so. She looks like she would only ever explain herself if it was absolutely necessary. 

There is a scene where she is presented a series of sketches that a fashion editor wants to do in pale pink. Wintour is like: ‘Do you really think pink is appropriate for the time of year? It’s a bit spring.’ She casts a momentary aside glance that suggests her employee isn’t sharp enough. Think about what was happening in early 2007. Life outside of fashion. Facebook was exploding, vibrant new rave was on the prowl, freshness in music, things were changing. Why would Wintour want American Vogue to run a story, in this period, about minimal pale pink? She sits on her hunches, without getting too involved, without backing herself into any corners, while staff tremble and quake.

The most surprising thing about the documentary was that, as editor, Anna Wintour approved and disapproved ideas. Rather than being a commander, she seemed more of a navigator, suggestions appeared to belong to other people with her function being to scan them. There were a few personable shots of her at home with her young daughter showing a more tender side to the professional profile. She comes across as having heart, austere, standing for no nonsense, demanding the best from everyone.

To the Americans (who are fragile enough to be mortified by the word ‘toilet’ and say something different in order to refer to it) Anna Wintour must appear severe, brutal, ungodly and downright nasty, if unsubtle. She would undoubtedly fit in at some quaint slate-roofed pub in Yorkshire, where ‘say what you think’ and ‘know where you stand’ are salt-of-the-earth Northern attributes. Even if she is from London she has the same uncompromising directness.

Grace Coddington gets a taste of no one admitting to what they really think in the film. She does a photo-shoot only to have Wintour and a colleague decide to leave out the most ostentatious image, the key-stone of the spread, the central piece. The decision is made without her presence. The insult is that the same colleague who is telling Wintour ‘yes, I agree, this one is too much, not necessary, it doesn’t fit’ is now telling Coddington he has no idea why the image was removed. He tries to distract her with other images. I suppose this kind of spinelessness is benchmark normal. Those who have the courage to know their own minds are scarce. Almost as scarce as proper friends.

Grace, with her beautiful features, wit and wild red hair, taught me a new skill. They refer to her as the greatest living stylist. They say that no one else is as capable of putting together an awe-inspiring image. What a stylist does has mystery yet everyone is a stylist these days. What more can it involve than choosing the hair and make-up, clothes and accessories, spritzing last-minute hairspray? I didn’t realise that it is a stylist who designs the picture. I didn’t realise that a photographer, along with a few of his own ideas, operates with the trusted guidance of a stylist. Yesterday, when walking along the tow path, I imagined sensual girls in flouncy dresses with garish costume jewellery, draped over the cheerful boats in static poses, a whole new experience!  

The September Issue, a tapestry of working at a fashion publication, gave a small window, or key-hole, through which to catch glimpses of dedication to the gloss. Usual office relationships were evident in bullying, ego-mania, body-image obsession, verbose presentation – nuances people aspire to in order to succeed in business – without being exploited. I expect the scenes with the tea-boy in tears fell to the cutting room floor. Characters with a large sense of life show us their watches. Plus their fast-paced transformations, international glamour, ingenious power, influence.

HUNGER (2008) dir. Steve McQueen

15 Aug

 

I once went for dinner at a traditional Basque Country Sociedad. On the walls were framed oversized photographs. They showed a building devastated by a bomb. I wondered why such ETA attrocities were on the walls. Was it out of pride or was it ‘so lest we forget’? Later when discussing it, my friend said that “many people had been sacrificed by ETA” and “it was a way of remembering those who were sacrificed”. Stop. ETA murdered people. It wasn’t sacrifice.

My opposed-to-ETA Spanish friend then argued that sacrificed was the right word – it made the actions seem stronger. The people were sacrificed in the name of independence. No, no, no! I could see his logic but I couldn’t imagine a newsreader saying “the IRA today sacrificed five innocent people when they detonated a bomb.” It didn’t seem appropriate to justify events in this way. 

However, Hunger is a film about an IRA sacrifice – a hunger strike nine men perished from – and maybe gives us an historical clue as to why it doesn’t seem right in English to supplement the word ‘murder’ with ‘sacrifice’ when talking about terrorism, no matter how so perceived.

Back in 1981 Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender) is locked up in the Maze Prison. He wants IRA prisoners like himself to be treated with the privledges of political prisoners, allowed to wear his own clothes, escape the criminalisation that comes with being in gaol. The British government is refusing to acknowledge events in Northern Ireland as war; the inmates are criminals as any other and are punished accordingly. 

Steve McQueen is a master of characterisation. He doesn’t present Bobby Sands in the opening sequence, instead we get a series of symbolic activity that creates the backdrop, the physical setting to the mental state of Sands, the tension, the paranoia of the world around him. We become familiar with a sadistic guard who lives in an OCD orderly fear, looking beneath his car in the morning before starting his engine, carefully removing his wedding ring, monotonously washing his bloodied knuckles.

We engage with two prisoners in the squalid cell next to Sands, on strike, what they called ‘blanket strike’. They refused to wear the prison uniform, were left naked with blankets. Combined with a ‘no wash’ protest, their faeces spread on the walls, urine poured beneath the door into the corridor, the conditions appear beyond horrendous. Thank fuck cinema is without smell.

Once we have adjusted to the intensity surrounding the inmates, the discomfort of two grown men naked in a tiny filthy room, living a life lesser than most animals, only then, we are presented with Sands, dragged along the corridor, beaten, roughly given a haircut, a black-eye and a bath. Then we see him fully-clothed, relaxed, talking to his parents at a visit. He says to his mother, “you’re looking well!”
“So are you,” she lies, leaving a strong sense of artifice.

After another scene of prisoners being beaten in the corridor, this time by riot police with batons (one of whom, a young boy in tears, has hidden from the brutality round the corner), the fierce spirit of Sands is revealed. Bloodied and on the floor he rolls over, lies still, looks straight and steady with a mad glint in his eye.  

For sixteen minutes we watch him talk over his hunger strike plan with a priest. He smokes three cigarettes. The priest wants no part of it. Interestingly, the scene does not cut while Sands talks about his encounter with an injured foal as a boy. Instead, we keep a continual place, for the entire sixteen mintues, at the side of the table where they sit, listening and watching. 

The priest thinks it is futile against a British government who will not change their stance on what they see as murdering terrorists. The priest tells him that they will not recognise his actions. His sacrifice will not achieve anything. It will be long ignored. In years to come, no one but my Spanish acquaintance will perceive the IRA as purpetrayors of sacrifice. The hunger strike is suicidal and nothing more.

McQueen is a total genius when it comes to sound. This lengthy conversation is followed by the cleaner sweeping urine from the floor. It lasts almost five minutes. We see him scatter disinfectant along the length and then work his way from one end of the corridor to the other. Swish. Swish. Swish. The whole time we’re hoping that we actually see him reach the end. We want to watch, it’s incredibly dull but compelling, fascinating. The repetitive sound lingers on into the start of the hunger strike.

Scenes become more shorter, choppier, less coherent. Hallucinations represent the interior states of Sands. As he becomes weaker and weaker, his spiritual realisations are shown to us in subtle images, his fragile existence mirrored by his frail body. We watch him deteriorate, covered in sores, our viewpoint obscured by his bedside table with a steaming hot mug of unwanted tea, strangely cruel yet elegant.

Fassbender had to live on a diet of 600 calories per day in order to play a man dying of starvation. He is an amazing actor. An abundance of force one moment yet something vapid about him the next. Steve McQueen is a highly courageous director. A cinema wizard. The portraiture he weaves into his films is the absolute best. This is a great film albeit exploring the darker side of humanity, ironically, a consequence of fundamental belief in humanity.

DARK SHADOWS (2012) dir. Tim Burton

15 Aug

Johnny Depp in serious role shocker! Not really. This time he plays Barnabas Collins, a vampire over 200 years old, who has come to the rescue of the current Collins family led by Michelle Pfeiffer. Barnabas belongs to a time where women had ‘good birthing hips’. His eccentricities no more and no less the idiosyncrasies of Depp’s particular style. Barnabas Collins is as equally as likeable (fanciable) as any other character that the actor has played.

It’s similar to Sleepy Hollow, a 1999 Burton/Depp movie, although with more darkness. Sleepy Hollow was essentially bright with sinister places dark for contrast but Dark Shadows is sultry, gloomy and mysterious. Shots of quaint fishing boats bobbing about during the day appear creepy.

Set in 1972, my favorite thing about the film was Pfeiffer’s hairstyles. Quasi-early seventies beauty styling is hot! Alice Cooper gets a cameo and the rest of the soundtrack contains The Carpenters, Deep Purple, Iggy Pop and Elton John. Chloe Moretz, playing teenage daughter Carolyn, is proving herself to be an incredibly gifted young actress, even if this is the least dynamic role she has been cast in up until now, sulking in her room with its cosy rugs, geometric patterns and lava lamp.

The Prologue to the film explains that 200 years ago the Collins family emigrated from Liverpool. As the family board the vessel that will bring them across the Atlantic, a young girl stood staring, is told to avert her eyes; when they arrive in America she becomes the servant of the Collins family. The girl, Angelique, is a witch. She murders Barnabas’ sucessful parents using her magic. Barnabas then sets out to master the dark arts. When he falls in love with another woman, Angelique puts a spell on her, prompting her to take her own life, simulateously evoking a curse on Barnabas to become immortal, to become a vampire. She accomodates revenge by arranging for him to be buried deep in the ground where he will not die: a fate worse than death.

Centuries later the coffin is accidentally dug up. Barnabas sets out in search of his distant Collins descendants, who still live in spooky Collinswood Manor, doing very little. David, a young boy who sees ghosts, is refusing to accept his mother’s death. His father is putrid. His live-in psychiatrist (Helena Bonham-Carter) is an alcoholic. His newly arrived governess, Victoria, a mystery. The family fishing empire was long since superceded by another company: a company run by a certain Angelique.

Barnabas reveals his true identity to the head of the family, Elizabeth (Pfeiffer). She makes him promise to keep his freakiness a secret, leaving room for plenty of farce with misunderstandings of twentieth-century life, associating the signature MacDonalds ‘M’ with Mephisopheles (helper of the Devil); avoiding sunlight; drinking blood via murder; wanting to court a woman ‘in these times… er… places’. There were no great surprises to the plot, no dramatic revelations, all was as gothic, charming and enchanted as expected.

CAFE DE FLORE (2011) dir. Jean-Marc Vallee

15 Aug

Cafe de Flore is a beautiful film that connects two apparently unrelated stories: Jacqueline (Vanessa Paradis), a single-mother with a young son who has Down Syndrome and Antoine (Kevin Parent), forty years old, an international DJ who has recently split with his wife. 

Jacqueline’s story takes place in 1969 in Paris. She works as a hairdresser and lives alone with her son in a small chic apartment. He is a cute little boy who likes to listen to the song Cafe de Flore. She teaches him to assert himself to playground bullies at the mainstream school he attends. When a new girl begins the school, who also has Down Syndrome, the two of them become inseparable.

Antoine, on the otherhand, is obsessed with music, in Montreal, in 2011. His is the Cafe de Flore of Ibiza chillout sessions. He has two daughters with his wife Carole (Helene Florent), who, as a child, looked a little like Vanessa Paradis. Their whole lives they have only had eyes for each other, they met when they were children, almost thirty years earlier. Until Antoine fell for Rose, leaving Carole and his daughters to be with her, this other soulmate.

Carole is disraught and haunted by dreams. Her sleeping disorder consumes her as much as her ex-husband’s relationship with Rose does. A reoccurent vision she has is a small boy with Down Syndrome in the back of her car. Here we begin to see the mystery that coheres the two eras into one united plot (other than the boy and DJ both owning an LP with the original Cafe de Flore tune). Carole follows her instincts and visits a medium. 

The medium explains that Antoine and Rose were children in love in another incarnation. From this understanding, Carole can begin to heal her sorrows and recognise her place in this life. The story that began in 1969 can continue to flourish until it reaches completion.

Cafe de Flore builds the layers exquisitely with flashbacks occuring within each of the stories to establish the complexity of events and relationships. The setting in Paris is elegant, the costumes are peachy, the bond between mother and son touching. The way disability is dealt with is sensitive and constructive. Marin Gerrier, who plays seven year old son Laurent, is superb, spellbinding and absolutely adorable. 

In Montreal, the sometimes vacant Antoine is genuine, dynamic, without any dreary superficialities or superfluities of romance across the ages. He has divided his family with his love for another woman, there’s no glossy packaging: he has a therapist. The innocence of two people in love is striking, leaving the viewer pleasantly purplexed by synchronicity, the holistic beauty of creation. Yet also giving a sense of resolution, meaning and purpose.

PINK FLAMINGOS (1972) dir. John Waters

15 Aug

The video above came in handy a couple of years back when facing corporate interview scenarios. If I supposed I was talking to some power hungry ego-nut, male or female, my mind would scan back to this clip for a fleeting moment. ‘I am Connie Marble’ became a mantra I wrote sardonically on my Twitter page. Anything to survive.

 Less than a month later, I happened to have the pleasure of bumping into John Waters: hero, legend and renegade movie director. I love his style. As you can imagine, meeting him on Mare Street was an unparalleled experience, requiring that I gave him a pencil as a token of my adoration. ”It was a long time ago,” he said charmingly about Pink Flamingos. “Forty years.”

  While decades have passed since Pink Flamingos was made, it still seems fresh, possibly because the acting was stale from the outset. The dialogue is reminiscient of an am-dram pantomime. The lines are read as if on autocue (or acid). The stagnant approach somehow gives the characters an extra dimension in a fictional space. They seem to be themselves playing the role of themselves, in shocking situations that could almost be believeable, too absurd for fiction.

 There are a lot of laugh-out-loud moments where the volume of the background music gives the effect of silent movie slapstick. Mr Marble flashing in a park with a saveloy sausage, for example. There is bestiality, murder, incest, excrement, kidnap, cock and other vulgarity – none of which is as offensive as it is strange. 

 The essence of the story is that Divine lives in a trailer outside of Baltimore with her travelling companion Cotton, son Crackers and playpen abiding, egg-loving mother. She has attracted notoriety as ‘the filthiest person alive’ but Mr and Mrs Marble, who run a baby ring in the city, have something to say about it.

 Determined not to be outdone, they pay Cookie to date Crackers and spy on Divine’s activities. They send Divine an unwelcome present. Divine and Crackers go to their house and unveil the horrendous secret in the cellar. They return home to find that the trailer was sabotaged: dowsed in gasolene by the Marbles. Divine seeks revenge: the Marble’s ‘court appearance’ and subsequent murder.

 Pink Flamingos is one of the wackiest films ever made. It doesn’t take itself too seriously; the costumes and colours are camp and splendid; the music is amazing (Link Wray plays the opening tune The Swag); the plot is bizarre and totally nuts. It’s a classic. The ultimate in bad taste.

 Next time you’re in a formal, intimidating situation, with cold sweaty palms and uneasy silence, or when made to seem a dullard, think to yourself: ’I guess there are two types of people, Miss Sandstone: my type of people and assholes’. You’ll remain poised, for sure!