Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Viewing Log / 2013 / Week Eight

18/02/2013 - 24/02/2013


Nouvelle Vague [Jean-Luc Godard, 1990]: To suggest that the film is both beautiful and inscrutable goes without saying.  Godard's films, in general, are the most beautiful and the most inscrutable, awash with quotations, literary references, allegories and deconstructions.  To make sense of them, it is essential to see every cut, sound and image as expressive of something else; an emotion or idea articulated, not in the conventional approach of two character speaking scripted words in a short/reverse-shot, but where the combined inference of every sound and image, together or apart, tells a story.  Nouvelle Vague - the title, as ever, a pun - is, like most of Godard's greatest films, about a couple in crisis.  There are further references to class distinction (the rich and the poor), the backdrop of industry as a metaphor for existence (actions as transactions, commitment as commodity) and the house itself as a microcosm for the world in miniature.  Here, 'the help' (gardener, maid and housekeeper) take on the role of the Greek chorus; commenting on the drama from behind the hedgerows or in the background of things, while interpreting, as an audience themselves, the meanings and double-meanings of Godard's densely-layered approach.

The symbol of the two hands, meeting to create an embrace, goes back to La chinoise (1967), once again suggesting the need for communication (or togetherness), where the individual, when acting alone, is hopeless and adrift.  The couple in the film - never formally introduced but sketched well enough for the audience to draw their own conclusions - have reached the end of things.  As ever, they're moving in different directions (expressed via Godard's mesmerising use of the tracking shot) and unable to make sense.  'He' re-invents himself for 'Her', dying a figurative death and being reborn as the man (he thinks) she wants him to be.  Later, she will do the same.  By the end, the couple are free from the shackles of language and responsibility and are therefore able to find happiness in the straightforward expression (or embrace) of their love for one another. 

Amarcord [Federico Fellini, 1973]: A nostalgic film.  Not about nostalgia, as an idea, but influenced by a nostalgia for a place and its people that probably never really existed, outside of the subjective recollections of its director.  It's a great romp, beautifully filmed and featuring several sequences that stand amongst the very best of Fellini's career; but even so, every time I return to it, I like it a little less.  In fact, despite the almost universal critical consensus, I'd argue that the design and direction of Amarcord is simply a stepping-stone to the more imaginative stylisations of the subsequent Casanova  (1976) or And the Ship Sails On (1983).  Films that didn't necessarily have the same cultural impact at the time, but today have a complexity and a weight of emotion that is often lost within the more gregarious burlesque of the film in question.  Throughout Amarcord, the tension in the film seems to be created by the ideological distance between Fellini and his co-writer Tonino Guerra, where the political subtext (the encroaching power of Fascism) or the traces of magical realism (which are recognisable from Guerra's collaborations with Antonioni, Tarkovsky and Angelopoulos) jar against the kind of frivolous inflection of flatulence and fornication, which is typical of all things "Felliniesque."

At certain points in Amarcord, we can recognise sequences and images that might have felt more comfortable in other films co-written by Guerra, such as Red Desert (1964), Landscape in the Mist (1988) or Nostalghia (1983).  The latter film is an interesting comparison because it is a film 'about' nostalgia; about the loneliness of a character unable to return home and as such haunted by its memory.  Fellini's film has no such greater pull.  It is a reflection, exaggerated for comic effect, mixed with some genuine pathos and a lot of heart, but ultimately too narrow in its historical presentation to work as anything more than a postcard pastiche.  The "clowning" approach is certainly infectious, but maybe too personal to really mean anything to those of us too young to infer any real feeling from such an exceedingly idiosyncratic or eccentric recollection of events.


Flash Gordon [Mike Hodges, 1980]: Similar to what I said in regards to Batman & Robin (1997), the campiness, the artificiality and the stupidity of the film's hero, all seem intrinsically intentional to the design of the film, which is more a parody of the original comic strip than a genuine adaptation.  The acting wavers between the flat, wooden performances of the male and female leads and the deafening, theatrical bombast of the supporting cast, while the script, with its unanswered questions and infuriating 'deus ex machina', is weak and underdeveloped.  For most, this will be enough to condemn the film as an unmitigated failure, but for me the cinema is more than just a narrative art.  It goes beyond the influences of literature (adaptation) and theatre (performance) to embrace other forms, such as music, art, design, photography, costume, montage, architecture, sound and choreography.  When attempting to evaluate the subjective worth of a film, these elements should be seen as equal to the plotting and characterisation, because it is within this ability to present action and reaction through the juxtaposition of moving images, the change of light and the literal slowing down and stopping of time (by cutting from one scene to the next) that we find the true definition of cinema; the thing that establishes it, as an art-form, in its own right.  I'm not claiming that we should necessarily overlook a weak script or a performance that is out of key with the rest of the film, I'm just suggesting that the way audiences approach movies as nothing more than an illustrated text (where the filmmaking form is only there to serve the script, the characters and our own ability to suspend disbelief), is inherently wrong!

As a work of cinematography, art-direction, costume design and pure visual spectacle, Flash Gordon is a near masterpiece.  It is also more interesting, sub-textually, than something like Stars Wars (1977), which for me exists only as a superficial tribute to the same kind of genre.  Throughout Flash Gordon I wondered if I was sensing a satirical intent, and unsurprisingly, the film's director, Mike Hodges, explains during the DVD audio-commentary that his own view of the character had a lot to do with his personal take on American foreign policy, possibly post-Vietnam, but now very much as a precursor to the 'War on Terror'.  As such, there is something quite oppressive about the film's red, white and gold colour scheme, the "gung-ho" jingoism of the central character and the way Hodges contrasts this with a very Fascist-like depiction of Ming the Merciless; where the staging of scenes set within the vast, ornate fortress of the antagonist is somewhat reminiscent, in its iconography, of Leni Riefenstahl's disquieting propaganda piece, Triumph of the Will (1934). 

Kotoko [Shin'ya Tsukamoto, 2011]: "Confounding" doesn't even begin cover it.  This is Tsukamoto's most provocative and unsettling work since Vital (2004); a psychological drama that assaults the senses of the audience for a punishing 90 minutes until we're as uncertain of the reality of the situation as the characters on-screen.  The lead performance from J-Pop singer-songwriter 'Cocco' is a revelation.  She infuses both the film and her portrayal of this character with an intrepid abandon; brining to mind the similarly intense and similarly physical performances of Isabelle Adjani in Possession (1981) and Björk in Dancer in the Dark (2000).  The movement of her body, free, but at the same time, constricted, psychologically, is breathtaking, as the calm swaying of her limbs or the defiant stance of her body is turned into a rebellious act of physical expression by Tsukamoto's numbing, hyperkinetic approach.  Here, the shake of the camera or the blur its images (a body, silhouetted against a backdrop of distorted waves) becomes an outpouring of the pain and suffering that words alone can't convey.

Although emotionally gruelling and punctuated by a devastating violence that is at times reminiscent of the earlier Tokyo Fist (1995), Kotoko is actually Tsukamoto's warmest and most colourful film; the clarity of its HD images standing in stark contrast to the dark, grainy, colourless look of prior classics, such as Tetsuo the Iron Man (1989), Bullet Ballet (1998) and A Snake of June (2002).  It is also his most "feminine" film, with the appearance of 'Cocco' enforcing a greater sensitivity than any of his previous work, including the wounded Vital; where the maternal aspect of the character and the fragility of her body (in contrast with the strength of her emotions) overpowers Tsukamoto's usually more masculine emphasis on the brutal physicality of the human body - its strengths and weaknesses - against the symbol of Tokyo as an unmovable, metaphysical force.


Homecoming [Joe Dante, 2005]: I remember seeing this on the television at the time when the original series of Masters of Horror first premiered in the UK and finding it almost entirely worthless.  There was a kind of "how dare they..." reaction against the politics of the thing; the bluntness of the commentary, combined with the almost infuriating lack of scares, caused a personal backlash of deep resentment.  This was "Masters of Horror", not Masters of Political Satire!  Subsequently, my opinion of Dante, as a filmmaker, has changed.  There is a sly, sardonic, near-anarchic streak that runs throughout his work, where references to Chuck Jones and Frank Tashlin mesh with the spirit of Roger Corman and the atmosphere of Mario Bava.  As I've said before, I think what Dante does is similar to what Tarantino does with a film like Inglourious Basterds (2009), where a myriad of genre references are all chopped up and refracted to create something that uses the idea of homage or appropriation, not as a shallow "tribute", but to create additional levels of commentary and critique.  As a satire, Homecoming is truly inspired.

Set against the backdrop of a presidential election, the bodies of American soldiers murdered in Iraq return to cast a vote against the Republican party that sold them a lie, and consigned a generation to disability and death.  It's profoundly intelligent and incredibly witty, but it's also exceedingly moving, with the use of this very 'Romero-like' horde of sympathetic zombies becoming an onscreen representation of the sad legacy of war, in all of its misery and disgrace.  A returning army, wounded and maimed, unable to communicate; stepped over by society as an unpleasant reminder of the brutality of war, the betrayal of it.  In showing the society's refusal to acknowledge these fallen young men (and women), Dante and screenwriter Sam Hamm are able to create a greater commentary on the apathy and complacency of those of us, safe on the sidelines; promoting or condemning the business of war, without experiencing it firsthand. 

The Grey [Joe Carnahan, 2011]: I respect the intentions of the filmmakers.  At the centre of The Grey, there is a seriousness that is lacking from most mainstream dramas that deal with similar themes.  An approach to death that is sombre and un-ironic; gratuitous in the almost pornographic nature of the close-ups that reduce dead bodies to objects of continual curiosity, to be looked at, or leered at, by characters and audiences alike.  This is all tied into the film's survival aspect, which takes a character on the brink of suicide and eases him, through the struggle of the film, into making his final decision, between life and death.  I only wish I liked the film more, or even at all.  The filmmaking is generic.  The earlier scenes, which establish the pain and grief of the central character, have the feel of a really pretentious television commercial.  The kind that has little to do with selling an actual product, but instead, employs obvious cinematic techniques to equate smoking cigarettes with a struggle against the elements, or driving a particular sports car as akin to some near-promethean pursuit.

To give you an example of what I mean, check out Surfer (1999) by Jonathan Glazer or One Man, One Land (2002) by Tony Scott.  One is a promo for Guinness, the other for Marlboro cigarettes, but both of these commercials posit a representation of their respective 'brands' as something of an intensely physical, even somewhat herculean effort to stand against the elements, to tame the untameable.  This is what this film reminded me of.  A really long commercial for some anonymous brand.  Why?  I'm not even sure.  It's just something about the artificial sheen of the film.  The way everything is reduced to significant moments, captured in close-up.  The use of the voice-over, which exploits the natural gravitas of Neeson as a performer, feels hollow.  People don't think like this.  It's more an effort to define a character without developing the character first, reducing everything to series of easy signifiers - the entire story expressed as an extended montage of significant moments; the "salient points" - again, like in a TV commercial.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Viewing Log / 2013 / Week Seven

11/02/2013 - 17/02/2013 

Apologies.  I didn't watch any films during this week.  I injured my back playing tennis.  Nothing serious, but I've had to rest and as such was unable to get downstairs to access the television.  Instead, I spent the time reading and occasionally writing.  My 'book of choice' was movie related.  Adventures of a Suburban Boy by John Boorman.  Even if you don't appreciate Boorman's work as a filmmaker, his autobiography is wonderfully written, wry, candid and ever self-deprecating.  The book offers a great insight into the trials and tribulations of Hollywood filmmaking, the compromises and the disappointments, but is also a great rumination on life; from the exploration of his turbulent childhood during The Blitz, to his years as a documentarian, to his love of nature and the endless Arthurian quests that become a kind of metaphor for the director's personal approach to cinema.  Throughout Adventures of a Suburban Boy, Boorman writes beautifully on the subject of film, the meaning of it, the alchemic nature of cinema and its images, and their ability to transcend time.  His writing demonstrates more passion and reverence for the medium than any contemporary critic. 

The book would have seriously enhanced my respect for Boorman had I not already considered him one of the finest English filmmakers.  My only wish is for films like Catch Us If You Can (1965), Leo the Last (1970), Excalibur (1981), The Emerald Forest (1985) and The Tiger's Tail (2006) to eventually achieve the same kind of recognition as Point Blank (1967), Hell in the Pacific (1968), Deliverance (1972), Hope and Glory (1987) and The General (1998).  It would also be nice if audiences could finally embrace the eccentric genius of Zardoz (1974) and The Heretic (1977).  Boorman is forever seen as a director of lean, "muscular" action movies, and the films that don't conform to this image are often deemed to be failures, but if anything he's a great poetic realist and a practitioner of pure artifice and phantasmagoria.  His films are like fables, full of magic and metaphor, alive with the spirit of nature.


Last year, one of my big plans was to complete a full blog-retrospective on Boorman's feature filmmaking career, but it didn't happen.  Partly because I couldn't find a proper widescreen copy of Hell in the Pacific and partly because I'm still missing several of his later films.  At some point, I might try to fashion a loose commentary on Boorman's work using quotes from the man himself.  His own elucidations on these films - always humble, always tinged with a sense of personal failure or perilous ambition - will surely be more interesting than any of the markedly more tedious observations that I myself may have mustered in celebration or defence.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Viewing Log / 2013 / Week Six

04/02/2013 - 10/02/2013


Histoire(s) du cinéma [Jean-Luc Godard, 1988-1998]: The myriad of meanings suggested by the title establish the often complex and incessantly multi-layered nature of Godard's epic, audio-visual essay, which gestures, through bracketed plural, to both the "histories of cinema" and the "stories of cinema", but should really be approached with a full acknowledgement of the bilingual pun that renders it, more precisely, as 'His Story of Cinema.'  Through the progression of these ten films, Godard wrestles with the concept of cinema; its meaning as a historical point of reference and its stature as a dead (or dying) art.  It's also an attempt to analyse, pre-Cousins, the "story of film", not as a conventional documentary, or even as a film about the history of the medium, but looking at cinema, as an idea, as if it were a genuine narrative arc; a history defined not by events, but by characters, stories and emotions.  For Godard, the history of film is the story of film itself; where the "men who made the movies" (Thalberg, Welles, Hughes, the Lumière's) were not just businessmen or technicians with an idea to exploit, but adventurers, gangsters, lovers or prisoners of the (he)art.  Their story of film is a love story, but it's also a tragedy, a psychodrama and an autobiography, existing all at once.  To explore the story of the history of film, Godard assembles sounds and images in an almost stream of consciousness approach - full of diversions, similes, tangents and associations - that, if properly reconstructed, becomes a narrative; a story from beginning to end.  Though full of bold pronouncements - the majority of which are sure to prove contentious - Godard always returns to the image of himself, alone in his seclusion; reinforcing the personal aspect of both the work and the man himself; this maker of films, haunted by images; like the exiled Prospero with his books. 

On the Beat [Robert Asher, 1962]: Plainly speaking, this is the best of Norman Wisdom's early 'Pitkin' comedies, as it finds the perfect balance between the kind of intensely physical slapstick that the actor had already showcased in the back-to-back brilliance of Trouble in Store (1953) and One Good Turn (1954), alongside the heart and soul of a great story, full of warmth and imagination.  The best of Wisdom's films play to the social limitations of the performer, presenting his character as the butt of the joke; the lovable loser "who generally means well", but always gets it wrong.  Here, his hope and longing to become a celebrated policeman like his father before him propels the narrative and gives purpose to the extended set-pieces, the madcap plot and the 'Walter Mitty' like fantasy sequences that establish the character as something of a hopeless dreamer.  For me, this aspect of the character infused the comedy with a delicate sadness; where the shortcomings of 'Pitkin', and the inevitable humiliation of the character via his continual attempts to receive recognition amongst his detractors and peers, only makes his ambition all the more endearing.  For co-writer Wisdom, On the Beat is a definite tour-de-force, not only demonstrating the best of his 'Pitkin' persona, but also creating an opportunity to adopt a very different kind of physical caricature; the flamboyant stylist Giulio Napolitani, the film's unconventional villain. 


Anti-Clock [Jane Arden & Jack Bond, 1979]: If Jean-Luc Godard remade Alphaville (1965) in the style of Numéro deux (1975) the end result might look something like this.  In fostering such a comparison, I don't mean to diminish the work of Arden and Bond, or to suggest that their film is in some way derivative of the experiments of a greater "auteur", but simply attempting to provide a context for this strange and often impenetrable work.  An excursion into the realms of post-modern science-fiction, presented as an ongoing video deconstruction of the notion of "truth" in relation to recorded memory, Anti-Clock is both a fascinating continuation of the themes explored in the earlier Arden/Bond collaborations - the cold and clinical Separation (1968) and the surreal and disturbing The Other Side of the Underneath (1972) - and a mesmerizing example of a director using the cinematic form to create an interrogation of its subject, where the shots and cuts not only suggest meaning but also implication; insinuations to the true nature of the central character, suggested via the juxtaposition of images, sounds and ideas.  Subtitled 'A Time Stop In The Life Of Joseph Sapha', Anti-Clock is essentially an investigation into repressed memory, regression, Oedipal anxiety and the now more prevalent than ever notion of the world as a complicated system of audio-visual surveillance.  Like The Other Side of the Underneath, psychoanalysis is used as a facilitator, in which these fragments of memory, viewed as a montage of recorded images on a bank of television monitors, create the 'impression' of a story; its past, present and future. 

From Beyond [Stuart Gordon, 1986]: A work of atmospheric hokum from the often reliable Stuart Gordon, who as ever manages to transcend the low-budget aspect of his work to create something alive with invention, ambience and imagination.  As with his breakthrough film, the cult-horror Re-Animator (1985), the gallant mix of both "lowbrow" and "highbrow" influences won't be to everyone's tastes, with the gestures towards the stories of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert Louis Stevenson often jarring against the Roger Corman meets William Castle emphasis on gothic horror and repulsive special effects.  There are several sequences in the film that push tastelessness to new levels, but as with the best of Lucio Fulci, it's the vivid, dreamlike quality of the film (and its often startling images) that leave the greatest impression.  The idea of portals between worlds is suggestive of the idea of dreams and dream-states - both in keeping with the themes of corruption and insanity - as well as the more interesting representation of the "viewer", transported via the use of this device into another dimension; a mirror to our own relationship (as an audience) with the film itself.  It's perhaps worth seeing just for the dazzling use of colour - which reminded me of the Bava of Kill, Baby, Kill (1966) or a less adventurous (but no less intoxicating) take on Argento's masterpiece Inferno (1980) - and for the third-act decent into the realms of pure 'Cronenbergian' "body-horror."

Friday, 8 February 2013

Viewing Log / 2013 / Week Five

28/01/2013 - 03/02/2013

Lorraine! [Danièle Huillet & Jean-Marie Straub, 1994]:  Like the masterpiece Sicilia! (1999), Lorraine! is a film about place.  About the power of a place, its histories (because "history" should always have a plural, denoting more than one) and the recollections of its people.  The emphasis on place has always been important to the films of Straub-Huillet, whether in the setting of Père Lachaise in Every Revolution is a Throw of Dice (1977) (where the film becomes a clear attempt to bring dead forms back to life) or in the imagined America of Class Relations (1984) (a stylistic effort to capture the European "Amerika" of Kafka's novel from the author's own perspective of having never visited the U.S.).  Here, the region of Lorraine, and in particular its capital, Metz, becomes the subject of the film, beginning with a slow panoramic shot that ends on an image of the Moselle, as symbol of its separation.  As with the work of John Ford, the landscape in Straub-Huillet's film becomes like a central character; as expressive as the actors who speak the words that give weight to these images of the city, where the contours of the landscape evoke the march of time, or where the presentation of its roads and rivers not only create figurative barriers (both natural and artificial) but illustrate the movement of people as shorthand for communication.  The river in the opening scene becomes an obvious representation of the divide that exists at the centre of the film and of the city itself.  Metz, not only a city divided, geographically - existing adjacent to the tripoint alongside the junctions of France, Germany and Luxembourg - but historically too; calling into question the idea of heritage, especially in relation to the Siege of Metz in 1870, after which the previously French region was briefly annexed into the newly created German Empire.  Again, like Sicilia!, the filmmakers capture this divided landscape with a slow panning of the camera, from side-to-side and back again, suggesting the progression of history; where the past becomes a metaphysical "revenant" that intrudes upon the present in the form of the young Collette; this vessel for the haunted words of Maurice Barrès. 

Doghouse [Jake West, 2009]:  I was surprised by the accusations of misogyny that some online pundits had brought against the film.  If anything, Doghouse is a work that employs the recognisable tropes of "ladsploitation" (right down to the casting of the controversial Danny Dyer; the sub-genre's wide-boy archetype) only to subvert them through a kind of comic exaggeration.  Each of the characters is in some way an over-the-top personification of a certain masculine tendency, from the womaniser, to the geek, to the "new-age" male.  These characters (or caricatures) are placed in an absurd and largely incongruous situation (it didn't necessarily have to be zombies), which provides them an opportunity - in their own minds, at least - to reinforce their individual masculinity and reclaim dominance over this murderous female horde.  As a concept, the machinations of the story might have proved problematic had the male characters not turned out to be quite so inept; diving head-first into this difficult situation without even thinking, and generally acting like a group of football hooligans on a Friday night brawl.  I wouldn't go so far as to call the film "satirical", in the more sophisticated sense, but I do think the writer and director have knowingly exaggerated the traits of their protagonists to such an outlandish degree that the film becomes a rather obvious (and largely tongue-in-cheek) parody of inherent male stupidity.  In Doghouse, the humour of the film continually derives from the hapless nature of the central characters, who instead of acting like rational or intelligent human beings, almost immediately descend into a kind of posturing male chauvinism or cocksure bravado, viewing the threat as nothing more than an excuse to act out the part of John Rambo (or even The Terminator), as opposed to taking charge of the situation, with any kind of perspective or genuine common-sense. 


Roselyne and the Lions [Jean-Jacques Beineix, 1989]:  Beineix uses the spectacle of lion taming as a metaphor for the often destructive impulses that drive the majority of relationships, where anger, jealousy, passion and pain threaten to obliterate the bond that exists between two people, driven close to insanity by their obsessions and insecurities.  The spectacle of the film, where the 'tamer' and 'trainer' attempt to control these wild beasts that stalk and prowl the barred perimeter of the cage, works as a visual representation of their love for one another; all-powerful and all-consuming; dangerous and destructive; volatile enough to spill out into violence or blossom, flower-like, into something beautiful; a display of pure emotion, which, in its graceful theatricality, becomes art.  The art of living or the art of ardour?  This presentation of the film could also be viewed as a sort-of commentary on the cinema itself, from its production to its distribution.  For instance, the relationship between the actress and her director is reflected in the central relationship between the two protagonists, where the young trainer, Thierry, works tirelessly behind the scenes preparing for the show, before the beautiful tamer Roselyne (the public face of their affiliation) wows the audience with her commitment to the routine.  There is also the obvious cinematic suggestion of the final "performance" (or literally, "the last act"), where the routine and the reactions of an audience that Beineix intercuts with the caged exhibition on-screen, presents a clear acknowledgement of our own role as spectators, and the performance itself as something closer to theatre (albeit, a theatre abstracted by the use of shots and cuts into the purity of cinematic expression).  Viewed in its complete, three-hour form, the experience of Beineix's film is absolutely exhilarating.  The technicality of the film and the work of the actors when face-to-face with these ferocious lions that respond (and perform) to their every command is thrilling in its authenticity, but more than that, it's the combination of this reckless, dazzling demonstration of technique, in contrast with the more intimate, character-driven story, that moves as much as it enthrals. 

Dreamcatcher [Lawrence Kasdan, 2003]:  When browsing the "Bad Movies We Love" series at the blog 'Rupert Pupkin Speaks', I was genuinely surprised to see how many of its contributors considered this to be amongst the very worst films ever made.  I saw it on DVD not long after it was first released and only remembered finding it fairly boring, as the early promise of a creepy supernatural mystery eventually became entangled within a mess of extraterrestrial subplots, inexplicable character developments and the usual hokum that we've come to expect from any adaptation of a work by Stephen King.  The plot of Dreamcatcher recycles the most well-worn elements of Stand By Me, The Shining, It and The Tommyknockers, but also adds more bizarre ideas, like a parasitic alien virus that erupts from the sphincter of its host, an on-screen representation of a character's memory rendered as a dusty old library, and a last minute appearance by the actor Donnie Wahlberg playing a character that's been described, rather unsympathetically, as a "magical retard" (not my words).  I didn't find these elements to be as embarrassing as many of the film's more vocal detractors (though the scene where Thomas Jane's character literally uses his gun as a telephone did cause my eyes to roll) but the film still feels overlong and unfocused, as if the writers were throwing every possibly idea they could at the screen in the hope that something might stick.  For me, the film would have worked better as a more intimate story, focusing on the characters and how they deal with the situation, and not necessarily going the way it did, with Morgan Freeman's crazed army Colonel and his scenes of extraterrestrial genocide.  Interestingly, for a film with so much in it, the end result still felt somewhat empty.


Dream House [Jim Sheridan, 2011]:  Remember what I said about Neil Jordan's In Dreams (1999); that the ending was a cheap twist that turned a thought-provoking psychological drama into a senseless supernatural one?  Well, this is the opposite.  The twist here turns what is initially a senseless supernatural drama into a thought-provoking psychological one.  I'm not going to suggest that the film is in any way a misunderstood masterpiece - especially since there are several things here that don't necessarily work - but I do think the story is a lot more interesting than the majority of (so-called) professional reviewers might suggest.  Even discounting the psychological aspect of the film, which to my mind was beautifully developed, there is also a rather interesting "meta" element (again, see In Dreams) in which the central character is writing a novel, which when completed, turns out to share its title with the finished film.  This, to me, seems significant, and ties in nicely with an earlier exchange in which the protagonist sits down to tell his children a bedtime story that contains echoes of several scenes and developments explained in the final act.  Once again, there is the suggestion - albeit, a muted one - that much of what we've seen here might be taking place within the realm of creative fiction, or possibly even as an invention of its central characters.  Given the film's rather torturous production process - which has led to director Jim Sheridan and the actors Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz effectively disowning the film - it's difficult to know (with any great certainty) what the original intention might've been.  Since I'm very much a believer in evaluating the film for what it is, rather than what it isn't, I think it's best to try and look beyond the fairly implausible plot developments of the third act and focus instead on the psychological unravelling of the central character; the way the use of the plot-twist gives new layers to the presentation of events and creates a context for the initial feeling of artificiality, which is most obvious in its earlier scenes, prior to the big reveal. 

Daisy Miller [Peter Bogdanovich, 1974]:  A film about first love or love at first sight; as much about the relationship between producer/director Bogdanovich and his actress Cybill Shepherd as about the characters on-screen.  The implicit jealousy and insecurity - where the director must watch as his leading lady falls hopelessly into the arms of another man - finds some expression in this story of the upstanding gentleman Frederick Winterbourne, destroyed by love (or for love) through his unrequited courtship with the titular Daisy Miller.  In Bogdanovich's film, the character of Daisy is less a protagonist in the conventional sense than a symbol that haunts the young Winterbourne, whose unfilled passion for Miller and his concern over her reputation following the character's scandalous encounters with the suave Mr. Giovanelli, not only anchors the film, emotionally as well as narratively, but also defines it's atmosphere and approach.  Watching the film, I was strangely reminded of another work of the same era (which incidentally also featured Cybill Shepherd as the object of a character's fixation), the Scorsese- Schrader collaboration Taxi Driver (1976).  The two films couldn't be any more different in terms of their genre and sensibility, but both are nonetheless carried by the intense and very much internal performances of their respective male protagonists, where the inability to express or receive love inevitably turns to obsession and, eventually, resentment.  Looking at the film in light of its various criticisms, I can perhaps understand why Daisy Miller failed to connect with audiences at the time.  Bogdanovich's vision of the film is classical (almost old-fashioned) in its observational (and conversational) approach, while the emotional development of the film is simply too subtle (or too gentle) to create the kind of drama necessary for the viewer to feel involved in the proceedings.  It's a film as staid and as reserved as its central character, always looking, rarely engaging, which for me, wasn't necessarily a bad thing.