Friday, 31 August 2007

classic image: my neighbour totoro (hayao miyazaki, 1988)

Two young sisters, Satsuki and Mei, move with their father to a new home in the countryside, at the edge of a great forest. Their mother is ill and is being treated at a nearby hospital. As the family settle into their new home, the girls explore the fields and the ancient forests that surround their new home. They meet strange, benevolent creatures that could be forest spirits or figments of their imagination.

That, in a nutshell, is the entire plot of My Neighbour Totoro, a masterpiece from a filmmaker who, with only one or two exceptions, has made nothing but masterpieces. I have no hesitation in placing Hayao Miyazaki among the very highest pantheon of artists working in the cinematic medium, and, though Totoro is not my favourite of his films, it brilliantly demonstrates the unique magic that animates his images.

I cannot think of any film that captures the feeling of being a child quite as accurately as Totoro does. Not any real, recognizable childhood, but the feeling of it - the endless wonder at the smallest thing, the joy in exploring one's surroundings, the moments of very real fear or sadness, the all-absorbing laughter, the escape into wonderful imaginings. This is an apotheosized, idealised childhood - Roger Ebert remarks that it is "a children's film made for the world we should live in, rather than the one we occupy
". And it is true that the world in which Totoro takes place is an astonishingly benign one, even by children's movie standards - there are no villains of any sort, no conflict between children and adults, hardly any dangerous situations. Their mother's illness is the only cloud hanging over the girls' rural idyll.

And yet, in many other ways, Totoro feels entirely, resoundingly real. It's in the little details: there is never any moment when the behaviour of the girls is anything less than entirely convincing, in every expression, movement, action, reaction or word. Paradoxically, it is difficult to imagine a child (especially a child the age of Mei, the younger sister) ever being this convincingly real in a live-action film, played by an actor.

The other dominant element in the film, and in all of Miyazaki, is the surrounding natural landscape. At the core of just about every Miyazaki film, even the action-packed epics Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984) and Princess Mononoke (1997), is a calm, meditative, hypnotic stillness. Nature is treated reverently in his films, and it appears as something ancient, sacred and beautiful; perhaps one of the greatest praises that can be given to his work is that it sidesteps glib New Age-isms and succeeds in presenting an image of nature that is humbling, gorgeous, spiritual and profound.

Seen through the eyes of the young girls, the natural world around their new house is more than just beautiful - it is enchanting, something they can lose themselves in, feel a part of. As for the creatures themselves, from the gigantic but entirely adorable Totoro (possibly one of the most amusingly, irresistibly cute critters to ever inhabit a screen) to the astonishingly surreal Cat Bus - it is never made clear whether or not they exist outside the girls' imagination, or even if the adults they relate their stories to believe them to be. Either way, they make the world around the protagonists all the more weird and wonderful, all the more mysterious, fascinating and endearing, and create some of the film's most memorable moments.

My Neighbour Totoro, then, is a strange film, one without any form of danger, conflict, or traditional narrative drive, but that nonetheless manages to be completely entrancing and captivating. It is a gentle, unassuming and tranquil film that manages to make the world seem as limitless and full of possibilities, and the day as long and eventful, as it was when you were a child; that perfectly captures the childhood delight of exploration, and the feelings of wonder and awe (tinged with pangs of sadness) that colour childhood days. I cannot offer any praise higher than that.

Saturday, 25 August 2007

we want our film to be beautiful not realistic

No cinephile can have failed to notice, over the past few years, a certain tendency, fuelled at least in part by advances in digital film-making tools, towards an increasingly self-consciously artificial visual style. It is difficult to pinpoint a starting point for this trend, though we can see it at work, for instance, in sections of The Matrix (Andy & Larry Wachowski, 1999). In its most extreme form, it has given us three films (to date, with more sure to follow) that place actors in a completely digital universe - Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (Kerry Conran, 2004), Sin City (Robert Rodriguez & Frank Miller, 2005) and 300 (Zack Snyder, 2007). In less extreme forms, the tendency manifests itself in a number of ways - for instance, in the digitally-graded colour tones of Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003), in the intoxicatingly saturated colours and impossibly swirling leaves of Hero (Zhang Yimou, 2002), and in the visual gap between the first two Harry Potter films and Alfonso Cuaron's third instalment, with its luminous silvery and occasionally sepia-tinged tones and its iris fades.

Ted Pigeon has recently written a fascinating article (link) on the impact of digital media on cinema; but what interests me is not digital media per se, but the trend, which they seemed to kick-start, towards increased visual artificiality. Digital techniques are only one aspect of this tendency, which also comprises, among other things, of a marked propensity towards a postmodern visual pastiche of historical genres - film noir in the case of Sin City, 1940s studio films in the case of The Good German (Steven Soderbergh, 2006), and everything from the giallo to the spaghetti western to the Hong Kong kung-fu film in Kill Bill (Quentin Tarantino, 2003-2004).

The avant-garde and art-house cinemas, of course, have long played with the idea that the cinematic image, despite any claims made by realist film theoriticians such as Bazin and Kracauer, is essentially an artificially-created construct with no bearing on or relation to reality. The illusion of realism created due to the medium's photographic nature is precisely that - an illusion.

None of this is in any way a new revelation; what is interesting is that, as digital technology makes the link between photography and cinema increasingly tenuous, so too, it seems, does the mainstream audience's expectation of realism decrease. Bar exceptions such as the musical genre, mainstream cinema has always tended towards an essentially realist approach to the image. Even if what is being depicted is clearly alien to the real world, the cinematic images that represent it strive for an impression of reality - attempting to make the audience suspend their disbelief and accept that what is on the screen is real. The image is transparent - what is important is what is represented, not the image itself.

This recent trend demonstrates a clean break with this tradition, giving us instead films that revel in their artificiality - from the comic-panel-come-to-life shots of Sin City to films, such as Shekhar Kapur's upcoming Elizabeth: The Golden Age (at least what we see of it from its trailers) that favour floridly, elaborately beautiful visuals closer to painting than to any imaginable photographic representation of historical reality. These are images that are not afraid to show us they are images, that do not feel the need to pretend to be real; and that are thus entirely free to go as far as they wish in the quest for beauty and expressive, emotional power.

This is not new ground, of course - the expressive manipulation of the cinematic image is as old as the medium itself, entire movements (such as German Expressionism) were built on very similar ideas; it would be difficult to find a single great film-maker, living or dead, whose films do not bear witness to an at least implicit engagement with the image as artifice. What is new (apart from the aforementioned input of digital media and the postmodern tendency towards pastiche) is the extent of these ideas' penetration into the Hollywood and international mainstream. We have David Fincher's (at least pre-Zodiac) swooping cameras, Darren Aronofsky's formal compositions, Zhang Yimou's swirling colourscapes, Chan-wook Park's baroque mise-en-scene, Baz Luhrmann's carnivalesque scenes, even the dashes of surrealism that colour the two Pirates of the Caribbean sequels.

It might be pure coincidence that for the past three years the Palme d'Or at Cannes has gone to resolutely gritty, social-realist features; or it might perhaps represent a critical and academic backlash towards this increase in cinematic artifice, and a retreat to the safety of realism. Admittedly, these tools certainly can, and definitely have, been misused to create vacuously pretty but soulless showreel movies. But it seems clear to me that, regardless of their individual quality, in blowing open the established conventions of cinematic realism, in tentatively mapping out the path for a new, digitally-aided postmodern impressionism that is starting to dominate both mainstream and art-house cinemas, these films have ushered in an exciting new range of possibilities waiting to be explored.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

review: the fountain (darren aronofsky, 2006)

Reading critical views on Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain, I was very strongly reminded of what many of the same critics wrote about another film released a few years ago. Both films premered at the Venice Film Festival, to general disdain. Like The Fountain, the ghost of Stanley Kubrick was repeatedly invoked to explain its grand ambition and ponderous sense of self-importance, while, also like The Fountain, the film's ambiguously spiritual, transcendental themes were dismissed as preposterous and laughable, the film declared emotionless and cold, and ultimately laughed out of theatres. As if to cement the point, both films feature a slightly risque bathtub scene that, for varying reasons, was the focus of tabloid attention on the respective films.

This other film was Jonathan Glazer's Birth (2004), a film that is, to my mind, one of the most well-crafted and fascinating of the past decade; a description which fits The Fountain equally well. I must begin to wonder if many critics' dismissal of the two films, for much the same reasons, is symptomatic of a complete inability or unwillingness to engage with their grand, quasi-spiritual, one can almost say religious (though not in the dogmatic sense) ideas. After all, it does not take any great insight to see that a critical environment that hails such socially worthy but blinkeredly unambitious and safe works of "serious" filmmaking as Paul Greengrass' United 93 and Martin Scorsese's The Departed (both 2006) will not easily adapt to something like The Fountain : it seems as if many established critics are too comfortable in the postmodern, materialist, rationalist status quo to be open to anything that steps outside those boundaries. A film that questions social and political ideologies is radical and daring, but a film that examines deeper assumptions about life and consciousness is, apparently, ridiculous and pretentious.

The Fountain is the third film of Darren Aronofsky's career, and also the third demonstration of flawed but unmistakable genius. This time around, his ambitions have (literally) skyrocketed, and the flaws are writ larger than ever; the successes, however, have become equally majestic and awe-inspiring. Stretching his canvas out into a thousand-year (possibly) science fiction personal odyssey, Aronofsky charges head-on into perhaps the oldest and greatest of subjects: the nature and meaning of death, and how it relates to life and love.

At the core of the story is the relationship between Dr. Tom Creo (Hugh Jackman), a brilliant neuroscientist, and his wife Izzy (Rachel Weisz), who is slowly dying of a brain tumour. Tom's obsessive drive to find some form of miracle cure for his wife is contrasted to her almost serene acceptance of her fate, manifested in the novel she pens. Around and stemming from this story, two other narrative threads intertwine - the story of a sixteenth-century conquistador searching for the tree of life, and of a twenty-sixth-century spacefarer headed for a distant nebula. The connections between the three strands exist not only through the presence of Jackman and Weisz in all three eras, but also through a recurrence of the themes of death and rebirth, love and sacrifice; the thrice-repeated pattern, in different permutations, is of Jackman undertaking a quest to grant eternal life to his beloved - a quest that must end with the acceptance of death and an understanding of its role in the life-cycle of the universe.

The actual, logical connection between the three segments is more difficult to pin down - although, at its heart, the story is much simpler and more logical than many, who have labelled the film incoherent, will have you believe. Its framework, however, does invite considerable thought, and supports a number of conflicting interpretations.

(some spoilers follow in white...highlight to read)

The interpretation that, to me, feels the most plausible and satisfying, is that the sixteenth-century narrative exists only as the novel that Izzy writes and that Tom must finish, as a means of understanding the nature of death and rebirth. The twenty-sixth century narrative, however, is real. Throughout the film we have seen Tom and his team discovering the amazing properties of a new compound that seems to stop the aging process in its tracks; this is hardly the kind of thing that is inserted as a background detail and forgotten about. For five hundred years Tom is unable to come to terms with Izzy's death and unable to finish her novel; understanding finally dawns on him as he travels to the nebula that for her had been a symbol of the afterlife, carrying the tree he himself had planted on her grave. He writes the ending of the novel, where the conquistador dies through the creation of new life in the blossoming flowers, and enters the nebula at the moment of its life-giving, on a universal scale, explosion.

(end spoilers)

It might be true that The Fountain does not have anything new to say about death. And yet, has it ever been told so beautifully, so affectingly? This is a remarkably-constructed and -crafted film, from the interlocking logic of the narratives (creating its own mythology out of various sources, including Mayan and Christian mythologies as well as, undoubtedly, Joseph Campbell), to Clint Mansell's incredible music (surely the best film score in years), to Matthew Libatique's gorgeously dark cinematography and formal compositions, to the unique visual effects, partly achieved through microscopic photography of chemical reactions. It is a film built on a recurring, potently mythic network of imagery encapsulating its core theme, the inseparable intertwining of death and rebirth - evident most clearly in the repeated image of the tree of life, life-giving growth emerging from death. Most remarkable, however, is its deep emotional impact - a mixture of sadness and joy and, ultimately, in its astounding, heart-stopping, unbelievable climax, sheer, spiritual awe. There is an earnestness at the heart of the film which might strike some as pretentious, but which seems to me, in a cultural climate where no form of belief in anything non-rational, or any greater meaning, can be expressed unless regulated by the safety-valve of irony, to be a heartfelt, honest and tortured call for a belief, however momentary, in an all-encompassing, transcendental beauty.

Which is not to say it is a perfect film. Its primary flaw, and it is quite a big one, is that Aronofsky's dialogue often feels leaden, contrived and unnecessarily portentous, with the result that Izzy and Tom never leave an impression on us as living, breathing human beings. The film's plodding, precisely calculated nature gives little space for its characters to live, so the people in the film are rarely more than pieces for Aronofsky to push around in his game. It is a testament to the film's other strengths that this is not enough to destroy our considerable emotional investment in Tom and Izzy's relationship, which is the fulcrum of the entire story; and yet it is not difficult to imagine that The Fountain with a better-realized insight into its central couple would have not only been hands down the best film of last year, but quite possibly one of the cinematic highlights of this decade.

Others have pointed to its artificiality and ponderous sense of self-importance as flaws, but this is an unavoidable part of the approach it must take; this is a mediaeval icon or an ancient hieroglyph of a film, schematically planned out to the smallest thematic and imagistic detail, unconcerned with the day-to-day world, interested solely in its quest for the divine. The price it must pay is constantly treading a fine line between grandeur and silliness; to my mind, the former outweighs the latter resoundingly and conclusively.

As it is, The Fountain is therefore undeniably flawed, and yet, I have no hesitation in choosing a glorious, ambitious but imperfect film such as it is over any number of perfectly-realized blandnesses. In its best moments, of which there are many, it is genuinely, monumentally transcendental, and it only gets better on reflection. It is, ultimately, a heartfelt outpouring of great joy tinged with great sadness, a celebration of love, an earnest meditation on the greatest and most eternal of themes, and a grand, towering piece of cinematic artistry.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

i'm not sure if this is...

...the greatest idea in blockbuster entertainment history, or the stupidest.

The dinosaurs in Jurassic Park 4 have been trained by the army to carry guns.

Trained by the army to carry guns.

What the idea clearly is, is insane. I'm not yet sure if it's insane like genius-insane, or insane like the Super Mario Bros. movie-insane.


Friday, 10 August 2007

essay: bloody epic spectacles

Over the past week I revisited Apocalypto (Mel Gibson, 2006) and 300 (Zack Snyder, 2007), two of the more offbeat blockbuster big-hitters of the past year. Neither is in any way a perfect film, or even a very good one, and both suffer to varying degrees from crippling flaws. Nonetheless, the films are interesting for the similarities they share, and the light they cast on the development of the historical action epic as a genre.

The genre, of course, is one that lay largely dormant for a number of decades (with exceptions such as Gibson's Braveheart (1995))before exploding once again into the pop-culture consciousness with Gladiator (Ridley Scott, 2000). The box-office and awards success that encountered Scott's film was superceded a year later with the first of Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy - not, strictly speaking, a historical epic, but its groundbreaking success cemented the idea that the clashing-swords and epic-battles formula was here to stay.

Fast-forward a few short years, however, and the formula already seemed stale and worn out. The Lord of the Rings franchise continued to be met with spectacular success, but other epics that followed, such as Oliver Stone's Alexander (2004) and Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven (2005), failed to meet their box-office targets. More crucially, films like Troy (Wolfgang Petersen, 2004)achieved little bar a forgettable, unremarkable mediocrity, falling far short of achieving the rousing emotions, grand themes and breathtaking spectacle expected of an epic.

Something new was needed to reinvigorate the genre, and Apocalypto and 300, in proposing an answer, create a new spin on the historical epic formula. The first element in their updated formula is a difference in timescale: whereas the plot of a traditional epic would span a number of years, or even decades, both Apocalypto and 300 only cover the events of a few days. The second element, which is linked to the first in some important ways, is a rigid, narrow, straight-ahead emphasis on the action; in both cases, there is only the barest of scene-setting, followed by what is basically an extended, sustained, feature-length action sequence. One could almost argue for these films being nothing but extended third acts: introduction and development dealt with in a few minutes, with the rest of the film being one long climax.

Naturally this has a number of consequences on the films, none necessarily positive or negative. This narrow temporal focus allows for one event to be depicted in minute detail, giving the possibility of intensity and depth over breadth and scope; it would be interesting to see an epic that takes this approach with a dramatic, rather than action-oriented, bent. The emphasis on action also grants these films the kind of headlong, breathless momentum more often associated with the action film, and in fact the line between the epic and the action film is blurred here, especially in the case of Apocalypto. An argument could be, and has been, made that these films are not epics but action films with an exotically historic backdrop, and while that doesn't have to be a bad thing, it needs to be said that, despite pretensions to the contrary, neither film has much in the way of intellectual or emotional complexity; adrenalin-fuelled entertainment is their sole raison d'etre.

The emphasis on action leads to the third element in their reconfigured epic formula: explicit, visceral violence. Both films glory in their depiction of bloody, brutal violence, and use it as a primary device in their emotive arsenal, attempting to capture a raw, physical thrill (this is not a criticism in itself, although many have used it as such). Despite this similarity, however, the films' approach to the violence is very different: in 300 it is cartoonish, glorious, heroic and "cool", in Apocalypto the intended effect is gruesome and horrifying.

The fourth, and final, element in the formula is the deployment of a rich, stylized, CGI-enhanced visual style in an attempt to recapture the spectacle of the epic, now that vast CGI armies of thousands have become somewhat passe. 300 takes this much further, but both films foreground their visuals, their CGI-created spectacles and their stylized nature.

Ultimately, neither Apocalypto nor 300 is a great film, although the former is my pick of the two. Both films come close to achieving greatness in sections - Apocalypto in the sheer, manic, wide-eyed intensity of the scenes in the Mayan city, and 300 in the opening scenes, which suggest a dark, cynical reworking of classical mythology epics such as Jason and the Argonauts (Don Chaffey, 1963). Apocalypto, however, demonstrates an unevenness in tone, undecided whether it wants to be an actioner or something grander; by the end it degenerates into an enjoyable but forgettable chase movie. 300, meanwhile, tries but fails to sweep aside the obvious contradiction that the Spartans, supposedly figthing for "freedom", are defending a fascist, militaristic society that it is singularly difficult to root for; while its incessant heroic platitudes and unnecessary, glib narration start to grate almost immediately. They are interesting, however, when taken in conjunction as experiments with the structure and genre elements of the historical epic - experiments that have paid off decidedly well in box-office terms, but, so far, with mixed results in aesthetic terms.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

classic image: wild at heart (david lynch, 1990)

It might seem strange that what strikes me as one of the cinema's most honest and perversely beautiful affirmations of love comes from David Lynch, a director more associated with disturbing dreamscapes and nightmarish journeys into the dark underbelly of small-town life. And yet Wild at Heart is precisely that: an oddball, offbeat, deeply troubled but ultimately joyful celebration of passionate love, and of the fragile yet powerful private sphere lovers inhabit.

Much of the film's success can be attributed to Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern, both delivering memorable performances at the manic intensity the film demands. The story of their characters, Sailor and Lula, is reminiscent of countless other outlaw-couple stories, from Badlands (Terrence Malick, 1973) and Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967) all the way back, of course, to Romeo & Juliet, and probably to much earlier than even that. When I watched the film with Lara a few days ago, we talked about the parallels between the film and Shakespeare's play - though there are no warring families in Wild at Heart, there is the same sense of a rotten, corrupt and violent adult world that constantly intrudes upon and threatens to shatter the lovers' idyllic dream. The only way the couple can keep their dream alive is by running, constantly travelling down seemingly endless highways with California as an almost mythical, unreachable final destination. The adult world repeatedly ensnares Sailor into committing acts of violence, in much the same way as it does Romeo, and the forces and structures of the law, family and society form barriers which seem to trap Sailor and Lula and prevent them from achieving the happiness they find in each other.

One of Wild at Heart's strengths is that it belongs to the category of films (that also includes, for instance, Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures (1994)) that externalize the private, shared universe created and inhabited by its lover protagonists - the deeply personal dream-world in which they attempt to claim a space untouched by the corrupting, hypocritical influence of the adult establishment. Thus, the film's world is an endearingly, surreally kitsch pop-culture world of Elvis songs, jazz, snakeskin jackets, Good and Wicked Witches, convertibles and endless highways - a world composed of Sailor and Lula's psyches writ large. Theirs is a passionate, burning love expressed through numerous dancing scenes, rock songs, and especially through the energetically lustful yet tender hotel room sex scenes, expressing a bond that is unashamedly, delightedly carnal yet emotionally strong. This is in contrast to the adult world, which is depicted not as chaste and repressed (as is typical in many young vs. old narratives), but as sexual in a perverse and emotionless manner - as in the images of a mob boss constantly surrounded by naked, immobile sex slaves.

Lynch, however, does not shy away from depicting the dark side of the protagonists' story. The deliriously overblown fire imagery, repeatedly associated with the protagonists' lovemaking, recalls the death of Lula's father in a suspicious fire as well as the deaths of Sailor's parents through smoking-related illnesses, and invokes not only the ever-present spectre of death but also the realization that the fragile existence Sailor and Lula have carved out for themselves is ephemeral and cannot last.

This impression is reinforced by the haunting scene of carnage they encounter in the wreckage of a car accident that has claimed the lives of what seem to be kindred youthful spirits. As the girl they try to help dies in front of their eyes, a sense of mortality settles on the couple, shattering their previous confident hedonism. It is in this mood that they end up, penniless, in the dead-end desert town of Big Tuna, Texas, where the aura of decay and death is intensified as the first clue we get to the arrival of new life is a close-up of flies buzzing around a pool of vomit - perhaps the most stereotypically "Lynchian" image in a film which, for the most part, foregrounds his latent wacky sense of humour. Here, reality catches up with Sailor and Lula; they are forced to face the consequences of their hedonistic elopement and to realize that what they have been living is a dream that must reach an end.

At the end of the film, however, we have a hopeful - even joyously hopeful - note. Sailor and Lula have come to accept that life and love cannot be perfect, that they might have lost something along the way and that the pressures of the world might have damaged their impossible dream; but they have decided that is no reason to give up the dream. The finale is at once hilariously kitsch and, in a weird way, movingly romantic, and it affirms the possibility of the the existence and survival of love, even at the cost of a Sisyphean struggle with the outside world.

Wild at Heart is in no way whatsoever a subtle film, but it operates at precisely the right pitch to capture the love story of its characters - in much the same way that, at the opposite end of the spectrum, Wong Kar-Wai's In the Mood for Love (2001) exists at the subdued, quiet level the character of its protagonists demands. It is ultimately, for all its filmmaking and technical brilliance and postmodern invention, a simple, uplifting, life-affirming love story, and one of the best films by one of the greatest of film-makers.

Friday, 3 August 2007

review: zodiac (david fincher, 2007)

I watched
Zodiac before Dan started up the blog, so I've been meaning to write a review for quite some time could therefore say that my memory isn't fresh enough to review this film now, and you may be right if you're thinking about doing justice to most of Fincher's work...however, I also have the impression that this just might add to the disturbing sense of fallible memory which comes across in Zodiac.

What I mean is that one of the major strengths of Fincher's Zodiac is its tie to the Post modern narrative: the refusal to settle for final and comfortable explanations. Don't go looking for some neat little Ron Howardesque direction of conspiracy theory in Zodiac...every scene, in both script and action builds upon the increasing over saturation of information which continues to hinder rather than clarify the possibility of achieving some such thing as truth.

I found myself both emotionally involved with the concerns of the main characters, yet still strangely removed from them, like a little fly shaped camera on the wall that can only pick up on their movements but cannot process their meaning. This isn't to say that there is no character development-to the contrary, major figures are always natural, credible, sympathetic and well-rounded rather than just over-paid screen fillers-but our direct closeness to their predicament or obsession reveals its futility and emphasises their place as ciphers in a larger pattern which cannot be proven to exist or not exist.

Everywhere you turn, Zodiac's meticulously woven string of clues, hunches and so-called facts appear to lead to a dead end without resorting to lunatically ridiculous out-of-nowhere plot twists in order to leave the viewer with that "what the heck?!" kind of feeling.

Overall, Zodiac displays a very reduced sense of Fincher's generally over the top flashy camera movement (a style which I'm generally seduced by, I must admit), leaning instead towards a sense of expressive realism and heightened visuals which are well situated within the context of the dramatic action-characters' faces twist into sinister shapes through the shadows and motivations are obscured even by seeming revelations. Coincidences become facts and vice versa, it's a maze without an opening where mundane icons or signs become twisted or perverted for uses beyond their original purpose. In this sense, the influence of Pynchon's cult novel, The Crying of Lot 49, emanates from the film's every frame, yet shares its morbid humour to a lesser extent. [Coincidentally, some *trivia*: Radiohead-big fans of The Crying of Lot 49-were in line to write the soundtrack to Fight Club, but the deal fell through.]

Through time lapse, carried out in the more familiar Fincher style, the investigation drags on for years, each person deteriorating both socially and psychologically in a sometimes kitsch, sometimes noiresque environment-but almost always, the surroundings themselves appear drab with fatigue. The paranoia of the colour noir so evident in Fight Club also remains strong, yet the post modern is evident more often through thematic and narrative development than constantly self-conscious and self-referential form. The move might be predictably described as a growing sense of mature film-making, yet I have no qualms against either style Fincher adopts, each demonstrating both a technical and expressive awareness of the simultaneous oppression/dependence relationship between people and their artificial environment.

Just like our memory and that of every witness blurs, so do the film's conclusions, offering a nagging doubt which you're free to consider or ignore...

Me? I took the bus home after the movie, I stared at the clocks above the bus stops and the cracks in the pavement that night, they all looked a little weirder than did the people walking home quietly. Just a thought, guess it doesn't mean much.

beyond satire

It might sound like a throwaway gag on The Simpsons or Family Guy, but it's entirely real.

A kung-fu version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

I guess anything is possible.


Wednesday, 1 August 2007

r.i.p. : ingmar bergman, michelangelo antonioni

It is impossible not to be feel saddened by the loss, within two days, of two of the most revered of auteur figures. I must confess I have not explored Bergman's and Antonioni's oeuvres with the thorougness their reputation demands; I have only seen a handful of Bergman's films, and none at all of Antonioni's (something about the mental image I have of what they are like always makes me decide to put off renting one until next time).

I have never considered Bergman one of my favourite directors, most probably for the illogical reason that I have always associated his name with the crowd of mostly ageing cinephiles for whom the only good cinema is the European arthouse cinema of the 60s and 70s. And yet I cannot deny that The Seventh Seal is almost certainly one of the greatest films ever made; its tortured metaphysical questioning veined with a surreal black humour making it virtually unique and shatteringly affecting. Moreover, in films like Wild Strawberries, Bergman blended metaphysics with agonized, soul-searching character studies, all crafted with a meticulously perfect cinematic eye.His place in the history of cinema and his status as one of the great auteurs is assured and more than deserved.

I'm afraid I can say little about Antonioni, as I know him by reputation alone; however there can be little doubt his name will likewise be etched in the annals of cinema.

review: the simpsons movie (david silverman, 2007)

The bad: it's basically just an hour-and-a-half long Simpsons episode.

The good: it's an hour-and-a-half long episode of the greatest TV show on Earth.

Like just about everyone else my age, I've grown up watching and loving The Simpsons, to the extent that it's difficult to imagine life without the dysfunctional yellow family.

This movie assumes that is the case for its audience, and I doubt it would make any kind of sense to a newcomer (if such people exist). For everyone else, it's everything you could hope for from a feature-length Simpsons episode. It may be more comfortably familiar than daringly groundbreaking, but there is precious little comedy this relentlessly inventive, intelligent, well-written and just plain funny.

And Spider-pig should be Emperor, or something.