dir: Michael Powell
Peeping Tom is a first of sorts. It’s not the first flick about a serial killer, nor about voyeurism, nor about the killing of prostitutes.
But it’s one of the first flicks I can think of that has a character study of a sociopath with something of an explanation of how and why he does the things he does. And, oddly enough, it’s a sympathetic portrayal.
It starts with a first person point of view, where we are to understand that the camera is a character itself. He or she, we don’t know yet, approaches an old boiler of a prostitute, who squawks that whatever it is that they’re referring to, it’ll be “two quid”. She leads him up some stairs to a slum like room, and she looks as excited by the prospect of servicing another punter as she does about filling out her next tax return.
But then the scene starts to turn odd, as we realise that the first person perspective, isn’t the person themself, but someone holding a camera as he hired the whore and followed her to her room. When she starts freaking out, we realise that whoever is doing whatever to her is also filming it.
dir: Mike Nichols
What a remarkably good film. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to see it. Seeing it for the first time just recently (29//8/2007), I was struck by just how good this ‘classic’ flick from the 1960s really is. For once the link between reputation and quality actually coincides.
Certain phrases have become pop culture stalwarts like “Mrs Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me,” “Do you want me to seduce you?” and “Plastics!” said in that conspiratorial voice. And the soundtrack by undead folk troubadours Simon and Garfunkle is as well known and much lamented part of greatest hits commercial radio package played out daily across the globe.
dir: Luchino Visconti
The Leopard, based on the novel of the same name by Giuseppe Di Lampedusa, is a beautiful, languid film that slavishly follows the source material so as to not miss a single scintillating second of Sicilian magic. Only a Marxist director who was an aristocrat himself could so painstakingly reconstruct such a story about the decline of the aristocracy in Italy after the Risorgimento of the 1860s. So a classic story about the death of a way of life, of an entire people, becomes a classic film in the hands of the right director.
The acclaimed Italian director made plenty of other films, some as good and some worse (The Damned comes to mind), but few are as magnificent as The Leopard. The title itself comes from the coat of arms of the Prince Fabrizio di Salina’s prestigious and illustrious family. In the film he is played by Burt Lancaster, that most Italian of movie stars.
Oh, wait a second, he’s not Italian. How can he play a Sicilian aristocrat in that case? With great difficulty, perhaps?
Well, Burt Lancaster was of that generation of actors, like Kirk Douglas, like Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum, Anthony Quinn, Charlton Heston: guys that could play anything and usually did, and made it look easy. This isn’t even the only film he’s played an old Italian in. He played an even older one in Bertolucci’s epic shemozzle 1900 (Novecento). I can’t comment on whether he’s a great actor or not, but I can say he physically embodies the role of the Prince in a way that perfectly matches the character from the book and which greatly aids the film’s credibility.
dir: Gavin Hood
Rendition is, yes, another one of those recent films tagged “political” by those reluctant to be drawn into the culture wars (which is, usually, most people) but eager to dismiss something with the least amount of effort required.
Just in case you thought movies don’t mean squat unless they’re based on something true, Rendition is based on the ordeal of Khaled el-Masri, a German national of Kuwaiti descent, who was taken from the Serbian-Macedonian border and held and beaten in prison in Afghanistan for five months in 2004.
And then released when they figured out that it was Khaled AL-Masri that they were looking for in the first place. Because if they’d beaten that guy for five months, it would have been all right.
The title refers to the use of the term rendition, or extreme rendition, as applied to the manner in which the CIA can decide some people with potential information or contacts in the terrorist community can be snatched up and disappeared as if they never existed. Then, once they’re wearing a headbag, they’re whisked away to a country where foreigners can torture them for information. See, America doesn’t do torture. But if someone else wants to do it for them, well, why the hell not? It would be the height of ingratitude to not take advantage of their hospitality and flexible positions on human rights.
When the person who’s kidnapped and tortured is just a stinking foreigner goatherding their way through their family-less and friendless lives, then it’s not an issue worthy of being brought to our notice. But when the guy is a fully fledged America lover with a pregnant blonde wife (Reese Witherspoon) and a son called Jeremy, then it’s really a crying shame and a travesty when the guy is kidnapped and tortured for his suspected terrorist links.
I’m not sure exactly where most of this story transpires apart from the Washington and Chicago bits, but it’s North Africa at the very least. Morocco, Tunisia, probably not Algeria, but it hardly matters. It’s a place where there are lots of Arab speakers and Muslims living in hot and dusty climes. Which are, as we know, a recipe for two things: fundamentalist terrorists and forbidden love.
dir: Richard Kelly
Hmm. An interesting film. I was simultaneously surprised and non-plussed by this crazy film, having had an inordinately high level of expectation due to a bunch of positive reviews and some decent word of mouth. Despite going in knowing plenty about the film, it was still a mystery from beginning to end, and still remains something of a mystery for me right now. Right now, writing this, there are still many elements that I can't work out, and will be pondering for some time to come.
Which is definitely a good thing. It is a film that despite its somewhat modest scale (which people who've seen it would dispute, I'm guessing), defies any real category and comparison, though by its end it achieves a conventionality which I never predicted. See, whilst watching it I initially couldn't foresee that there was an overarching logic, a method to the madness that was eventually going to make sense. I stupidly believed that it was going to be disconnected, schizophrenic vignettes connected by quirky bridging scenes with no sensible conclusion. I was profoundly wrong.
dir: Michel Gondry
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a rarity in this day and age: a film that has elements of romance, drama and comedy without being hampered or paralysed by any of those aspects. In truth this film is beyond a rarity: it's a gem that stars, inexplicably, Jim ‘Ham on Rye' Carrey and Kate 'Let Me Get The Twins Out' Winslet playing two oddball characters that don't pander, don't beg us to love how cute they are and therefore circumvent the natural expectations that an audience member might have of a scriptwriter having to create a story we could possibly care about. One that doesn't ploddingly, predictably, stagger from point A to point B to point Zzzzz.
Let's face it romantic comedies are about as popular as syphilis to those of us that don't think Maid in Manhattan, the Wedding Singer and Pretty Woman are the pinnacle of the cinematic experience. Sure, I understand, we're ungrateful, but some of us aspire to something more out of film and of life. With that in mind when something comes along that's clever and sweet it seems fuckstruckingly out of place. What? It's funny AND romantic? Are the seas boiling? Is that sky falling? Isn't this one of the signs of the forthcoming Apocalypse?
It's a bittersweet story inventively told and engagingly realised that succeeds despite Carrey's best attempts to fuck things up. It's Jim Carrey after all, a guy that probably has to be tranquilised for roles like this in order to keep him under control. Like many of the scripts that idiot / savant Charlie Kaufman has thus far been responsible for, the entire story seems to hinge on only one kooky idea: what if the technology existed to allow people to have their painful memories erased? Would people use it to stop being paralysed by the past, by their bad choices, their missteps and their mistakes? If people did go down this path, would their identity, their sense of self remain the same?
dir: Christopher Nolan
Based on a novel by Christopher Priest, The Prestige is one of the most intriguing and entertaining films of the year. If you told me that a film about two rival magicians at the end of the 19th Century would be a winner, I'd have told you to pull something else apart from a rabbit out of a hat.
The first image of the film is a winter scene on a hill, with dozens of top hats reclining upon in it in various states of disarray: one of the magician's most cliché of tools and part of their uniform. A voice asks us "Are you watching closely?"
Of course we're watching, but the magician's skill and the filmmaker's desire is to trick us whilst we're watching ever so carefully.
dir: Guillermo Del Toro
So many film reviewers and other shmendricks called this film one of their favourites, if not their favourite film for 2006, that I started wondering if it was possible for me to enjoy it under the weight of so much expectation. The truth is, the film is even better than I expected.
It’s cliché time as people fall all over themselves to come up with superlatives to describe how good this flick is, but the one that I’ll happily use is that Del Toro’s career up until now has been solely in preparation for making Pan’s Labyrinth.
The thing is, directors have got to eat, too. And Mexican director Del Toro is a big guy. So some of the stuff he’s made which has been less than tolerable (Blade II, Mimic, Hellboy), kept him fed, built his profile and gave him the skills to pay the bills so that he could one day pursue a project like this.
It would be a falsehood to assert that, though. The first film of his that got noticed, Cronos, was pretty good right from the start, and The Devil’s Backbone, also set around the time of the Spanish Civil War in the 1940s, also showed promise. In fact, it was pretty damn good. And as much as I was nonplussed by Hellboy, it was one of his pet / dream projects.
In tone and setting, Labyrinth is closest to Devil’s Backbone, though it is not really a sequel or connected that strongly. Some of the advertising for this film may have given people the impression that it is some kind of Tim Burtonesque gothic fantasy. Let’s just say that the trailer and the marketing are fairly deceptive.
dir: Tom Tykwer
A great book that never should have worked has, miracle of miracles, been made into a great film that could not, should not work.
Perfume: the Story of a Murderer (Das Parfum - Die Geschichte eines Mörders) by Patrick Suskind, is one of the most perfect books I have ever read. Even translated the German novel loses none of its most amazing qualities: an inspired and original story, an economical but expansive use of descriptive language to encapsulate one of the senses that you’d think would least be able to come across on paper, and a macabre, dark humour that delights as much as it horrifies. And THAT ending, oh my good god yes.
It’s the kind of book that potential writers read and then give up because of, convinced that they’ll never produce anything that good.
There’s even more going on in this amazing book that begs for it to be taught to school children from a young age. Well, maybe not from kindergarten onwards, but at least from when they’re young enough to appreciate greatness and stop picking their noses.
In calling it a perfect book, I mean that you can add nothing or subtract nothing from it to make it any better. Not a word, not a comma could be changed to improve it. It is perfect in what it has and what it doesn’t have, and what it has is an embarrassment of riches, both sensual and intellectual.
dir: The Brothers Coen
I never thought the Coen Brothers would ever make another movie that completely and utterly achieved greatness. That’s the only superlative I’m going to use in the review, because belabouring the point that this is a pretty strong film and one of their best for over a decade will only prompt people brought in by the hype to say “Eh, it’s not so great.”
More important that saying “It’s Great, Mate!” is being able to articulate as to why I think it’s so good, and why I enjoyed it so much. It’s actually quite odd, because the elements that really made it stand out for me might not even seem that important to anyone else.