The Cutprice Guignol

The Sixth Year: American Sigh Story

Category: Movie Marathon

Hounds of Love, Extreme Violence, and Exploitation

I went to see Hounds of Love today, writer/director Ben Young’s debut feature revolving around the story of an suburban Australian couple (played by Emma Booth and Stephen Curry) carrying out a series of violent abductions, rapes and murders to assuage his twisted sexual appetites. We pick up as they abduct Vicky (Ashleigh Cummings) and carry out a series of physical and sexual assaults on the teenager, and a battle of wills begins between the younger woman and the older.

 

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Guardians of the Meh-laxy: Movie Review

You know the feeling when someone is telling you a joke, and you don’t find it that funny? So the person explains and expands on that joke even more, just because it’s so inconcievable to them that you wouldn’t find this funny? And you try to make it clear that you understnd the joke perfectly well but you just don’t think it’s funny, and then they get all het up and start retelling you bits of the joke over and over again and rolling their eyes at you and calling you humourless becuse DAMMIT THIS JOKE IS BRILLIANT?

That’s sort of what the experience of seeing Guardians of the Galaxy was like for me. Don’t get me wrong, there were some parts of it I really liked-there’s a Christ-Pratt-shaped soft spot in my soul, and bizarrely the talking tree monster, Groot, was my favourite character-but if it becomes clear within the first few minutes of a movie that you and the filmmakers aren’t on the same page, you’re in for a bumpy ride. Here’s what my key problem with the film came down to: I didn’t think the wisecracking raccoon Rocket was funny. And the writers and directors thought he was a HOOT. So much so that they asided a few characters with much more comic potential to allow Rocket to go through all the lines in the trailer while they envisioned the audience literally scrambling for breath between the belly laughs. Now, it’s not all their fault that I hated Rocket-wisecracking animals, with the exception of Donkey from Shrek, make me cringe- but surely you have to prepare for the possibility that you’ve misjudged how funny a particular character is? But no. The people behind Guardians of the Galaxy thought he was a scream, and weren’t interested in the opinions of anyone who thought otherwise.

And there were more things that pissed me off about the movie too. Karen Gillan’s Nebula was solely there to provide reaction shots and a couple of mediocre fight scenes, bearing no immediatley apparent impact on the plot. The entire third act appeared to be the best part of the Phantom Menace shoved together into twenty-five minutes. Michael Rooker’s role consisted entirely of swishing his coat back threateningly to reveal a magic arrow thing and gnashing his pointy teeth, which is a woeful underuse of an excellent character actor and one of the most handsome men on earth (all right, I digress).

Guardians had it’s charm, but it wore pretty thin after two hours of weird plotting and attempts at emotional climax. And I am terribly sorry if you loved this film and what to break me into pieces after this review, because I can see all the things to like in there. They were just eclipsed by that fucking Rocket.

Movie Marathon #21: Fight Club

I remember watching Fight Club when I was sixteen. David Fincher’s adaptation of Chuck Palanhuik’s genius novel really blew my mind the first time I saw it; until this, every grown-up movie I’d seen had been incredibly worthy and slightly boring, but this-this was different. Funny, sexy, clever, engrossing and thrilling, it was one of the handful of movies that I’ve seen more than ten times.

And I can’t stress enough how much I admire this film. Among other things, it suddenly legitimized the existence of Brad Pitt, who I’d seen as little more than a moderately pretty human wig. His interpretation of Tyler Durden is dazzling, you’re equally as caught up in his slick charisma and anarchic idealism as The Narrator. And speaking of the same, Edward Norton turns in a performance that easily matches Pitt’s, the poster boy for disillusioned yuppie losers the world over. And that’s not even going into the rest of the great acting that peppers the movie; from Helena Bonham-Carter setting the screen on fire as the effortlessly sexy she-demon Marla Singer, to a somehow-perfect Meatloaf as a man trying to reclaim his masculinity after a bout of testicular cancer. It’s a grubby, grimy, filthy addition to Fincher’s oeuvre and one that pretty much marks the peak of his electric career.

But I have one issue with Fight Club. The majority of people I’ve watched it with have been men; specifically, middle-class kids with a similair upbringing to mine who have usually fallen in love with Norton’s defiant and violent spiel about men and masculinity in the modern age. And, although I can appreciate the film, understand the themes, and still think the thing is beautifully put together in every way-I’m not a man. Those themes don’t apply to me. And I always get the feeling there’s something about this movie that will never be able to totally get through to me, simply because I don’t have the urge to reclaim my masculinity and prove myself as a man. What with being a girl, and all.

That said, Helena Bonham-Carter kicks proverbial ass.

Movie Marathon #20: The Last Exorcism

As we move into the last ten days of my movie marathon, I’ve decided to bring up a movie I feel very strongly about. As if I hadn’t run out of them already.

I have very fond memories of The Last Exorcism, primarily because it’s the first horror film I ever had the pleasure of seeing in the cinema (and also because there was briefly a Sweded version in the works, my main memories of which involve birthing a troll doll and running around the woods with some big axes until we aroused enough suspicion to retire back into the shadows. And my brother delivering a monotone “No” in every scene.). It terrified the living hell out of me, and really sparked my interest in seeking out movies that genuinely made me uncomfortable to watch. I believe my viewing companion left the cinema with my nail marks in his arm, but I could equally be remembering my reaction to Sean Penn in Milk (vis; I hate Sean Penn).

I’m not convinced it’s a great film. Certainly, the first two acts- detailing a Reverend who has lost is faith but ends up involved in what appears to be a real demon possession- is adequatley interesting, poking some mild fun at the scores of exorcism movies that have infected our screens since Max von Sydow’s mother first sucked cocks in hell. And there are some pretty unnerving sequences-such as one where the main character beats a cat to death with a handheld camera, producing a really seasick, surreal affect that seemed to be lacking in most of the rest of the film.

However, the film fell flat on it’s face with the third act. Descending into possesed demon baby birth, redneck cults and Caleb Landry Jones sprinting around the woods slicing people up with big knives. As my viewing companion pointed out, it’s one of many films that could have the ending replaced with a choir singing “Everybody dies; THE END” in sonorously drawn-out monotone. All that said, there will always be a small place in my heart for The Last Exorcism. Crap as it is, it threw me down a mouldy well of horror that I never totally got out of.

Movie Marathon #18: The Avengers

Avengers Assemble is a movie about which I have many strong feelings (unsurprisingly). Anything written and directed by Joss Whedon (truly a God amongst Micheal Bays) instantly has my attention, as does anything with Robert Downey Junior. Throw in a handful of decent prequels, an epic tale in the works, and Tom Hiddlestone playing the sexiest Norse God ever, and I’m in.

Now, here’s the truth: I understand why people flocked to this movie in such huge numbers. I do. It’s great, in a lot of ways; a great spectacle mixed with a whole lot of fun and some adequately cool performances. But it’s absolutely not worthy of the ridiculously good reviews it achieved, and the critical and commercial success it reveled in worldwide.

Let it be known that I’m the strongest advocator of movies being, first and foremost, great fun; but The Avengers was two and a half hours of moderate entertainment, bland cliche and some slightly forgettable action sequences. Basically, it was an adequate superhero movie; no better or worse than most of the prequels and movies that would follow it. But because it was allegedly the first climax of the series-the entire team together and fighting some intergalactic threat-it was built up by hundreds of critics and rabid fans to be an EVENT.

And when it turned out to be simply as good (and, in some cases, noticeably weaker) as it’s predecessors, everyone seemed too embarrassed to admit their mistake. Taken as your standard popcorn buster of blocks, it’s perfectly fine. But it’s not groundbreaking, it’s not spectacular, and, dear God in Heaven, it’s not worth seeing four times at the cinema. You know who you are.

Movie Marathon #16: The Simpsons Movie

Recently, I wrote about my undying love for The Simpsons and how I genuinely believe that the show acts as a superb social marker and quick & easy way to judge someone on the fly.

I remember hearing whispers about the movie way back when I was at the height of my Simpsons mania; and it made me a little sad. Because I thought a movie would mark out a vast change in the way the show went forward; I envisaged a franchise of films at the loss of the television episodes, or just a complete flop that would kill a series which was already regularly accused of a major decline in quality. Luckily, it was neither of those things.

Much as there is debate about The Simpsons Movie, I think it’s brilliant. It doesn’t just run like an extended episode; the writers took advantage of the fact that their audience was already well-acquainted with these internationally beloved characters, avoiding throwing in scores of new cast members to spice up the movie or make it essential viewing for fans who were already skeptical of the movie. Aside from that, it’s genuinely funny; it keeps The Simpsons brilliant mix of surreal humour and beautifully touching character moments. And it’s not just madcap japes the whole way through-it’s by turns sweet, charming, sour, cynical and downright silly.

The animation, which marked a departure from the cruder drawing of the older series, was pretty spectacular. Huge, luscious crowd scenes, gorgeous scenery, the fleshing out of old characters; the animators took advantage of the changes the big screen would bring, and set themselves up for the next few years of superbly detailed animation.

For me, The Simpsons Movie did mark the end of an era for a big part of my viewing schedule. The show stopped being just a self-contained television programme-it was a franchise, replete with movie and video games. The show would then head off into a far more madcap and less grounded series, one that never really reclaimed the heart it had in the earlier seasons. But that by no means makes this movie anything other than what it is-warm, witty, clever and full of the creative brilliance that will always be what I love most about The Simpsons.

Movie Marathon #15: Lost in Translation

So, Sofia Coppola. She’s someone I’m endlessly torn about; almost tragically earnest, one of the ultimate examples of the Hollywood Babies set. Like a hyper-pretentious Rugrats spin-off.

Her debut, The Virgin Suicides, smacks of middle-class ennui and beautiful women. Lots of long, long shots, taut performances imbued with tension and blonde hair and death.

Then there’s Marie Atoinette. There’s nothing wrong with the film, per say, but it’s an airy confection, made up almost entirely of historical inaccuracy and bouncy soundtracks. It doesn’t feel like a Sofia Coppola film; it doesn’t take itself nearly damn seriously enough. The Bling Ring was another weird one-ostensibly a mockery of the shallow nature of fame-hunters that ended up, to a degree at least, pandering to the very people it claimed to be laughing at.

And that’s why I’m torn. I enjoy most of her movies, but it feels as if I enjoy them for different reasons than she intended; I like them because they look good and sometimes make me laugh. Ms Coppola meant for me to revel in a big, sticky ocean of her great ideas. Except Lost in Translation, which represents my favourite kind of uppity fluff; lusciously shot, sparsely written, witty in an honest way, and with a stray Ghostbuster thrown in for good measure. Top stuff.

It’s a tiny, quiet film-very much like Sideways, which I reviewed yesterday-and is often written off as overly thinky, unfunny comedy, featuring bland performances from pretty people. Honestly: that’s not the case. It’s sparse, yes, but still incredibly witty and featuring my favourite ever Bill Murray performance, as a washed up actor who meets a young newlywed (played by the frankly luscious Scarlett Johansen) by chance in a hotel bar. It offers yet another view on romance and marriage; a contrast between the long-suffering Bill Murray and his eternally offscreen wife and Scarlett and her yuppie buisnessman college boyfriend (played with typical confidence by Giovanni Ribsi). The main relationship is beautifully handled; never ostentatious, wild, silly or overtly dramatic, it’s a wonderfully scored, perfectly understated semi-romance that never really goes anywhere. An ambiguous ending might annoy the hell out of some people; for me, it’s a perfect reflection of the romance Lost in Translation depicts. Wistful, a little sad, but ultimately invested in a future they both know will work one way or another.

Aah. How sweet.

Movie Marathon #14: Sideways

Sideways is one of those movies I’m almost pre-programmed to love. An cynical comedy (check) starring Paul Giamatti (Check) as a struggling writer (check) who goes on a wine tour (check) to celebrate his best friend’s upcoming nuptials. But I saw it before any of those things really meant anything to me-in my pre-film-buff, pre-alcohol, pre-writing days. I didn’t even know who Alexander Payne was, for the love of God.

But I still thought it was a beautiful movie. A small, ultimatley sad little film, it features some bloody good performances from the lead four (Daniel Hayden Church, Virginia Madsen, Sandra Oh and the aforementioned Giamatti), and makes the most of the beautiful backdrop of the wine country. It also steers mostly clear of heavy wine talk or too much in-depth angsty author rubbish, so don’t keep using those as an excuse.

I think the reason Sideways ranks among my favourite films is because it takes such a different look at romance and love- for what boils down to a slightly puffed-up romantic comedy, it’s got a hell of a lot to say about various different kinds of relationships; friendship, engagement, marriage, divorce, affairs, romance. The central friendship between Giamatti’s depressive author and Church’s washed-up screen star is the driving force behind the film, and the way their respective relationships develop with their two lady friends says a lot about each character. For Church, what was meant to be a final fling before a life of married bliss turns into something uncomfortably genuine; for Giamatti, it’s all about nervously trying to navigate the minefield of romance after his divorce and general faliure.

The film pulls no punches with a wearily honourable ending, with both men basically attending to their responsibilities and facing an uncertain, probably rocky, future. Despite this, it holds a certain sense of optimism for both characters, refusing to consign them to the theoretical skip just yet; things might be difficult and pretty set-in-stone for now, but quote some Bukowski and everything’ll look a little brighter. If those aren’t words to live be, I may as well just end it now.

Movie Marathon #13: Rush

So, I went to the cinema last night with some friends. I’m trying not to make that sound sarcastic because I know at least one them will be reading this, and he knows where I live, and he’s a big bastard. But, believe it or not, I managed to rustle up some popcorn and the motivation to walk thirty paces to the cinema and went to see Rush, the new Ron Howard racing epic starring Chris Hemsworth as James Hunt and Daniel Bruhl as Nicki Lauda.

I find the general tale of Hunt and Luader pretty fascinating to begin with -one of those “you-couldn’t-make-it-up” real-life stories that seems like it only happened in the first place so someone could make a film out of it. And, in the hands of the sterling Ron Howard, it genuinley looked like it was going to be the perfect mix of Oscar-bait and actual entertainment.

And….it was. Sort of. A bit. I was discussing the film later with a friend and we both agreed that, although the film had been a very competent bit of cinema, it also wasn’t much more than that. Aside from the beautfiul cinematography and race sequences, everything remained decidedly average, decidedly first-draft-y. Chris Hemsworth made a fine James Hunt (whose name sounds almost incorruptibly like a rhyming slang), and there were lots of appropriatley gorgeous women wandering about in the pits, but the film suffered from it’s own story from the second act onwards.

Nicki Lauda was involved in a truly horrific crash in the 1976 German Grand Prix, where his car rolled into an embankment and burst into flames. Lauda was trapped in the burning car for over a minute until fellow drivers worked together to pull him out of the scorched wreckage of his ferrari, during which time his modified helmet had slipped off, leaving his face pretty much fully exposed to the flames. The crash left him in hospital for over a month, with many assuming he would never race again, if he lived at all. He did survive and did race again, but was the crash claimed his left ear, a large part of the skin on his face and most of his hair.

Several things struck me about the way this accident was handled in the film. For one, it was a brilliant bit of filmmaking. The crash (and Lauda’s recovery) were pretty harrowing to watch, even for those who wouldn’t call themselves petrolheads, and Daniel Bruhl did a great job with Lauda’s sheer force of will and almost dangerous ambition. But that crash was pretty much the climax of the film-and it came two-thirds of the way in. After we’d seen Lauda’s triumphant return to the field, etc, etc, and James Hunt claiming victory in the 1976 World Championships, it felt like Howard was just presenting us with an extended “happily-ever-after” sequence. Trapped by the boundaries of real life, he was left with trying to gum together some kind of closure through Bruhl’s forced narration and Hemsworth bouncing onto a private jet full of sexy ladies. And when your epilogue takes up that much of your film, you have to wonder whether the rest of it was worth watching in the first place.

Movie Marathon #12: Death Note

Continuing the theme of nicking every aspect of my interests and personality from anyone around, I was introduced to Death Note by my older brother when I was around fourtten. He passed me down the manga when I spent about ten minutes staring at him blankly while I tried to work out why he was reading a book backwards, and I devoured them in a ridiculously short amount of time. I will stand by ther Death Note books as a work of true genius; a ridiculously overwrought, convoluted story that only stops being fustrating after you’ve put down the last book. The art is beautiful, the ideas mind-bending, and the characters ridiculously compelling. With that source material, really-really-how badly could they fuck up the films?

Well, a lot. Seriously. Coming at the films with less an open mind than one that was an endless plane in every direction, I wanted it to be superb, and it was barely passable. You’d think that a manga (and anime) with such heavy influence and general, all-over popularity would have been able to garner, say, some people who could genuinley act. Starring Tatsuya Fujiwara (the lead in the equally dissapointing Battle Royale) as Light Yagami, the sociopathic student who ends up with Godlike powers after discovering the notebook of a Shinigami (God of death), and a perfectly-cast Kenichi Matsuyama as the mysterious and emotion-free detective L who’s constantly one step away from busting Light.

The story’s great but it’s been mangled almost beyond repair in the pair of movies, dobbing in Light’s brilliantly evil character for a matyred young man just trying to put the world to rights. Adapting a twelve-book series into a pair of relatvely short movies was always going to be a mountainous challenge, especially with a fanbase as dedicated as Death Note’s. But it’s not just that they’ve screwed up the plot.

Both films can relax in the knowledge that they have a solid, pretty huge fanbase for their creation, however brilliant or terrible the movies might be, and everything about them-the casting, the direction, the writing- smacks of this. It’s lazy. When you don’t have to fight to get yourself recognised, there’s always the temptation to just sit back on what you already have and point the camera at a couple of teenagers pouting at each other over a table.

Disclaimer: Kenichi Matsuyama is one of the most singularly beautiful men I’ve ever seen in my entire life and I would happily rub my head on his chest for days at a time.