Saturday, 27 March 2010

'It's all about what you think you're getting.'

Directed by John Landis

An admirable documentary, giving you a 'thick slice of Americana' – Dan Aykroyd's words. Landis introduced the film at the BFI and explained that the one lesson he took away from making this documentary was; a price is determined by what someone is willing to pay. America's fascination with cars, their willingness to pay over the odds is really astounding and it's captured in Slasher. The film follows Michael Bennett, a gun for hire, performance impresario who brings his act to used car dealerships to give customers the ultimate experience in purchasing a car, therefore boosting sale figures. Bennett's words, it's all about 'what you think you're getting' epitomise his philosophy in screwing over and selling as many cars as possible to the American public. In this case the cameras follow him in Memphis, 'the bankruptcy capital of America.' A lot of people scrape together what little cash they have to purchase a car from 'slasher'. This is funny and interesting and sad but the premise after a while becomes slightly cumbersome, as the film repeats itself, with customer after customer purchasing a car. The film could have worked as a short not a 90 minute feature. Bennett, a motor mouth alcoholic, is endearing, even when he's fucking people over. The most powerful scene in the documentary is near the end, when Bennett breaks down, claiming his job gave him a reason to live etc. Landis explained this emotional outpouring was due to him going ape-shit at Bennett for driving (apparently he doesn't have a licence). I would have liked to have seen Landis on film, pointing the finger. Being Landis, the music – R n' B blues is brilliant and masks the documentary's rather slow pace. Landis two seats away from me, was rocking his head throughout to the tunes and it is clear that music is his passion. A Landis documentary on blues would be great fun. Enjoyable.


Green Zone
Directed by Paul Greengrass

'Where are the WMDs'?' 'There aren't any WMDs'?' 'Where are the WMDs'?' A nice summary of the story of Green Zone. John De Borman, a mate of Barry Ackroyd's, the Director of Photography on the film, said the script was usually re-written on the morning of shooting. A good or bad thing? Green Zone is an ambitious film. Capturing the details of post-Saddam Iraq (haven't been so perhaps I should not pass comment), the 5 star hotels and bustling Baghdad airport – the film has a kinetic energy to the chaos, hustle and bustle. But in Green Zone nothing happens, Matt Damon discovers there aren't any WMDs' and does something about it cue action sequences and chases, which are all standard fare.

Greengrass is a phenomenal film maker and Barry Ackroyd behind the camera always does a sterling job. See his other Iraq film The Hurt Locker shot on Super 16 and all the better for it. But here Barry's crash zooms and Greengrass' direction does not translate to a riveting story about the universal understanding that the past decade of military intervention in the Middle East is based on lies. Greengrass' ambitious story forces him to paint with broad brush strokes. Yet you have to admire Greengrass for attempting to give an over-all picture of the deceit and incompetence in Iraq. No surprise it's tanked in the U.S. It is confusing that one of the defining points of the decade and most probably the century becomes an average piece of cinema. Either way seeing Green Zone, will hopefully get audiences talking about Iraq, WMDs', and Ackroyd's photography – most definitely not a bad thing.

'Which would be worse, to live as a monster or to die as a good man?'

Shutter Island
Directed by Martin Scorsese

A pastiche of cinema. Speaking at the BFI in December, Scorsese is a man who's life he has dedicated to the moving image. His passion and obsession for cinema is infectious. He loves making films, he loves watching films and he loves talking about films. Yet Shutter Island feels like a mish mash of Hitchcock and Welles, the result; a bloated and mundane piece of cinema. The camera sweeps into each scene from every angle imaginable. If the film has one defining hallmark; it's excess.

The scene where DiCaprio runs up the stair case of a light house had an incredibly complex production, a rotating spiral iron clad stair case was constructed, allowing the camera to rotate with Leo frantically running up each step. These impressive details are given no room to breathe, excess suffocates any of the clearly impressive craft that went into making Shutter Island. If the film was leaner in every respect, story, camera, production, you feel it would be a far more effective homage to the greats of cinema. DiCaprio is miscast as a decorated war hero now US marshal; a kid who can squint and grow a bit of facial hair. The flash backs of concentration camps feel uncomfortable. Almost as if this harrowing event is being manipulated to show DiCaprio's tortured soul, epitomising this contrived film.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

'Welcome to Hadley. The town and the family. '

Written on the Wind

Directed by Douglas Sirk

Robert Stack's eyes, he doesn't need anything else to act. The film is about the extremes of America in the 1950s. The blue collar folks live in the shadow of the rich and successful – in this case the Hadley family who have an oil firm business. And yet the Hadley's, have desires and wants that they can't fulfil. Two best-friends fall in love with the same girl. Again we have Rock Hudson and Robert Stack who riff off each other superbly - they are polar opposite, Hudson suppresses his love, and Stack is vulnerable, wearing his heart on his sleeve. Stack's character is wonderfully decadent and unstable, going through character transitions in seconds. The juxtaposition of these two characters is emphasised with alcohol, Hudson uses it to quell his emotion and Stack has it to heighten. Stack when drunk speaks rhythmically, he is vulnerable and wounded, he becomes the most important thing in a room; child-like.

The film is not only about extremes in character, the visual perspective is garish and beautiful. The barren oil fields dominate the landscape, as brightly coloured super cars drive on the highway. The interiors represent no ordinary home, no living rooms, only brightly coloured wall paper and lots of flowers. The technicolour gives a texture to the decadent world that these characters live in. Again, Russell Matty's camera work is impressive - lots of internal frames with mirrors, doorways and windows. Sirk seems to excel at the family melodrama but he appears to put these dramas in the context of things that define America. In The Tarnish Angels we had planes, Written on the Wind has oil. Again an evocative picture of America, with the ordinary American 'family'.

'I hate my life.' 'I hate your life too.'

Boy's Don't Cry

Directed by Kimberly Peirce

Hilary Swank is astounding as Teena Brandon / Brandon Teena, in this real life tragedy set in Falls City, Nebraska. Falls City is not America as you know it. Trailer trash – see Peter Sarsgaard -, alcohol, massive pylons and a killer sound track dominate this exceptional American landscape. Is Teena Brandon an archetypal drifter, a lesbian with attitude? Wanting to find love, a sense of purpose and belonging, you don't have to be a transsexual to empathise with Brandon. Swank has sculpted a character of such complexity that she carries a vulnerability that is harrowing and beautiful. A brutal tale in mid-town America.